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Getting a Flu Vaccine

The flu (influenza) is caused by a virus that is easily spread. A flu vaccine is your best chance to avoid the flu. The vaccine is given in the form of a shot (injection) or a nasal spray. It’s best to get vaccinated each year when the flu vaccine is available in your area. This can be done at your healthcare provider’s office or a health clinic. Drugstores, senior centers, and workplaces often offer flu vaccines, too. If you want to know when the vaccine is available or if you have questions about getting vaccinated, ask your healthcare provider.

Flu facts

  • The flu vaccine will not give you the flu.

  • The flu is caused by a virus. It can’t be treated with antibiotics.

  • The flu can be life-threatening, especially for people in high-risk groups.

  • Influenza is not the same as “stomach flu,” the 24-hour bug that causes vomiting and diarrhea. This is most likely because of a GI (gastrointestinal) infection—not the flu.

Flu symptoms

Flu symptoms tend to come on quickly. Fever, headache, fatigue, cough, sore throat, runny nose, and muscle aches are symptoms of the flu. Children may have upset stomach or vomiting, but adults usually don’t. Some symptoms such as fatigue and cough can last a few weeks.

How a flu vaccine protects you

Woman getting vaccine shot by health care provider.

There are many types (strains) of flu viruses. Medical experts predict which strains are most likely to make people sick each year. Flu vaccines are made from these strains. With the shot, "killed" (inactivated) flu viruses are injected into your body. With the nasal spray, live and weakened viruses are sprayed into your nose. The viruses in both vaccines cannot make you sick. But they do cause the body to make antibodies to fight these flu strains. If you are exposed to the same strains later in the flu season, the antibodies will fight off the virus. Your healthcare provider can tell you which type of flu vaccine is right for you.

Who should get the flu vaccine?

The CDC recommends that infants over the age of 6 months and all children and adults should get a flu shot every year.

Some people are at an increased risk of developing serious complications from the flu. It's extremely important that these people get the vaccine. They include those with:

  • Long-term heart and lung conditions

  • Other serious health conditions:

    • Endocrine disorders such as diabetes

    • Kidney or liver disorders

    • Weak immune system from disease or medical treatment. This could be a person with HIV or AIDS or those taking long-term steroids or medicines to treat cancer

    • Blood disorders such as sickle cell disease

It is also very important that others who have an increased risk of being exposed to the flu or are around people with increased risk for complications get the vaccine. They are:

  • Healthcare providers and other staff who provide care in hospitals, nursing homes, home health, and other facilities

  • Household members, including children of people in high-risk groups

Types of flu vaccines

The flu vaccine is available as a shot and as a nasal spray. Your healthcare provider will recommend the vaccine that is best for you.

Flu shot

The shot is available in a few different forms. There is a high-dose vaccine for those over age 65 and a vaccine for those with egg allergies. It's safe for most people. Talk with your provider if you have had:

  • A severe allergic reaction to a previous flu vaccine

  • Guillain-Barré syndrome. This is a severe paralyzing condition.

Nasal spray

The nasal spray is not recommended for the 2016-2017 flu season. Otherwise, it is meant for people from 2 to 49 years of age. It should not be given to adults who:

  • Are pregnant

  • Have a weak immune system

  • Have egg allergies

  • Will be in close contact with someone with a weak immune system

  • Have taken antiviral medicine in the last 2 days before getting the nasal spray

Online Medical Reviewer: Cunningham, Louise, RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, M.Ed.
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Online Medical Reviewer: Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 8/27/2014
© 2000-2016 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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