Each year as fall and winter draw near, I hear a familiar question from my patients, “should I get a flu shot?” My answer is most always an unqualified, “yes”.
Both the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Academy of Family Practice (AAFP) recommend routine annual influenza vaccination for people ages six months and older. The flu can produce symptoms ranging from relatively minor cold-like sniffles and coughs to severe respiratory problems, and as we tell patients, this is an illness that can make even the healthiest very ill. Additionally, someone with a relatively mild case of the flu can easily spread the illness to others who could experience serious or worse complications. The single best measure to avoid catching and spreading the flu is the seasonal vaccine which is likely now available at your physician’s office.
The flu can spread very quickly
Seasonal flu is generally passed from person to person through touching, sneezing, or coughing. Flu season starts in the fall and can run through the end of spring, peaking during January and February. People who have the flu can be contagious even before the first symptom shows up, potentially exposing others to the illness.
Vaccination protects you and others
Each year a “seasonal flu” vaccine becomes available that includes protection against the three strains of flu that researchers and experts believe will be the most common during the flu season. The vaccine produces antibodies that develop about two weeks after vaccination which protect us from infection. For the most effective prevention, we recommend that you get your vaccination early in the flu season to give the antibodies a chance to start protecting you before flu season gets well under way. There are two types of vaccines, the flu shot, and the nasal spray flu vaccine. Both vaccines are considered very safe, with most people experiencing no serious problems from either. Because there are a few cases where people should not receive the shot, and the nasal vaccine has additional limitations on age and some caveats for those with compromised immune systems. It is important to ensure your physician knows your health history, allergies, and past reactions to vaccines.
Who should be vaccinated?
In general, the guidelines recommend vaccination for all persons six months and older. It is especially important for certain people and those around them to be protected from the flu:
- People with chronic medical conditions such as asthma or chronic lung disease, diabetes, or lowered immune systems
- Pregnant women
- Those older than 65
- Children six months to four years
Keep yourself and others healthy From my perspective, the benefits of flu vaccination far outweigh any drawbacks. A flu vaccine can help keep you well and prevent you from spreading a potentially serious disease. In short, it is one of the best steps you can take to keep yourself and your family healthy.