The timing of flu is very unpredictable and can vary from season to season. Flu activity most commonly peaks in the U.S. in January or February. However, seasonal flu activity can begin as early as October and continue to occur as late as May.
The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older as the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease. While there are many different flu viruses, the seasonal flu vaccine is designed to protect against the top three or four flu viruses that research indicates will cause the most illness during the flu season.
Influenza is a serious viral illness that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. Every flu season is different, and influenza infection can affect people differently. Even healthy people can get very sick from the flu and spread it to others. Over a period of 31 seasons between 1976 and 2007, estimates of flu-associated deaths in the United States range from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people. During a regular flu season, about 90 percent of deaths occur in people 65 years and older.
In addition to getting vaccinated, you can take everyday preventive steps like staying away from sick people and washing your hands to reduce the spread of germs. If you are sick with flu, stay home from work or school to prevent spreading flu to others.
Encourage your loved ones to get vaccinated as soon as vaccine becomes available, preferably by October. Vaccination is especially important for people at high risk for serious flu complications, and their close contacts.
Children between 6 months and 8 years of age may need two doses of flu vaccine to be fully protected from flu. Your child’s healthcare provider can tell you whether two doses are recommended for your child.
WHO SHOULD GET A FLU VACCINE
People at high risk for developing flu-related complications:
- Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old
- Adults 65 years of age and older
- Pregnant women
- American Indians and Alaskan Natives
People who have medical conditions including:
- Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions [including disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerve, and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy (seizure disorders), stroke, intellectual disability (mental retardation), moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injury].
- Chronic lung disease (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] and cystic fibrosis)
- Heart disease (such as congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease)
- Blood disorders (such as sickle cell disease)
- Endocrine disorders (such as diabetes mellitus)
- Kidney disorders
- Liver disorders
- Metabolic disorders (such as inherited metabolic disorders and mitochondrial disorders)
- Weakened immune system due to disease or medication (such as people with HIV or AIDS, or cancer, or those on chronic steroids)
- People younger than 19 years of age who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy
- People who are morbidly obese (Body Mass Index, or BMI, of 40 or greater)
Note: There is no recommendation for pregnant women or people with pre-existing medical conditions to seek special permission or secure written consent from their doctor for influenza vaccination if they get vaccinated at a worksite clinic, pharmacy or other location outside of their physician’s office.
There are some people who should not get a flu vaccine without first speaking with their doctor, these include:
- People who have a moderate-to-severe illness with or without a fever (they should wait until they recover to get vaccinated).
- People with a history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a severe paralytic illness, also called GBS).
- People who have had a severe life threatening allergic reaction after a dose of flu vaccine or have a severe allergy to any part of this vaccine, including (for example) an allergy to gelatin, antibiotics, or eggs.
Pregnant women or people with pre-existing medical conditions who get vaccinated should get the flu shot and not the flu nasal spray vaccine.
Problems that could happen after any vaccine:
- Brief fainting spells can happen after any medical procedure, including vaccination. Sitting or lying down for about 15 minutes can help prevent fainting, and injuries caused by a fall. Tell your doctor if you feel dizzy, or have vision changes or ringing in the ears.
- Severe shoulder pain and reduced range of motion in the arm where a shot was given can happen, very rarely, after a vaccination.
- Severe allergic reactions from a vaccine are very rare, estimated at less than 1 in a million doses. If one were to occur, it would usually be within a few minutes to a few hours after the vaccination.
Mild problems following inactivated flu vaccine:
- soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
- sore, red or itchy eyes
If these problems occur, they usually begin soon after the shot and last 1 or 2 days.
Moderate problems following inactivated flu vaccine:
- Young children who get inactivated flu vaccine and pneumococcal vaccine (PCV13) at the same time may be at increased risk for seizures caused by fever. Ask your doctor for more information. Tell your doctor if a child who is getting flu vaccine has ever had a seizure.
Inactivated flu vaccine does not contain live flu virus, so you cannot get the flu from this vaccine.
As with any medicine, there is a very remote chance of a vaccine causing a serious injury or death. This risk is so remote, that it is nowhere near the risk of serious injury or death from the flu itself. So it should not deter you from receiving the vaccine.
Lon Goldberg, D.O., FACEP
Access Medical Associates
Excerpts from Center for Disease Control and Prevention