Elizabeth Harris, ARNP

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What You Need to Know About Flu Shots

It’s Time for Flu Shots, and Here’s What You Need to Know

By Elizabeth Harris, originally published November 13, 2016 by The Seattle Times.

Flu season is here, and now is the best time to get your flu shot if you haven’t already. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting your flu shot during the fall months because the flu is seen between October and May, even though most cases occur between December and February. It takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to give you protection.

To help you and your family prepare for flu season, I’ve addressed some common questions about the flu that I am hearing from my patients.

What is the flu?

The flu, also known as influenza, is an acute respiratory illness caused by influenza A or B viruses. These are found worldwide and are spread through sneezing and coughing. Typically, it takes one to four days from the time of exposure to the viruses to the onset of illness.

Signs and symptoms include:

  • Fever (temperature higher than 100 F)
  • Headache
  • Muscle aches
  • Weakness

Usually, flu symptoms come on abruptly. By comparison, with a bad cold you can often feel the symptoms coming on before you start feeling really lousy.

How does the flu vaccine work?

The flu vaccine introduces inactivated strains of the flu virus, which prompts your body to make antibodies to fight it. This means that when you are exposed to the live flu virus, your immune system recognizes it as an invader and goes to work on eliminating it from your body. Unlike previous years, only injectable flu vaccines will be used this year.

Who should get the flu vaccine?

YOU! Everyone older than 6 months of age should get the flu shot, especially those who have chronic illnesses like asthma, COPD, diabetes, heart disease or weakened immune systems.

Some people, however, should not get the flu vaccine. If you have any severe allergies to any part of the vaccine or have a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome, speak with your primary care provider before getting the shot.

Can I catch the flu from the flu vaccine?

Patients often tell me that they are hesitant to get the shot because they heard you can get the flu from the flu shot. The shot does not contain any live flu virus so it cannot cause the flu.

Some people do get a sore arm or redness where they got the shot. Sometimes, low-grade fever, headache or muscle aches can occur for a day or two.

What else can I do to prevent illness during the flu season?

Even if you’re healthy and haven’t had the flu, it is still good to take preventive measures. The flu is a serious disease and can lead to pneumonia and blood infections, and it can cause diarrhea and seizures in children. While the flu shot is the best form of protection against the flu, also be sure to wash your hands often, stay away from those who are sick, get plenty of rest, eat a well-balanced, healthy diet and get 150 minutes of moderate physical activity in each week.

Flu vaccines are available now. I recommend taking a few minutes to get this protective vaccine and improve your chances of staying healthy during this flu season.

Elizabeth Harris, ARNP, is an advanced registered nurse practitioner at Pacific Medical Centers at the PacMed Puyallup clinic.