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Health Connection: September 2015

Why Should I Get the Flu Vaccine?

Influenza — commonly called “the flu”— is a contagious disease that spreads around the U.S. every winter, usually between October and May. Flu is caused by influenza viruses, and is spread mainly by coughing, sneezing and close contact. Symptoms come on suddenly and may last several days. They can include:

• fever/chills
• sore throat
• muscle aches
• fatigue
• cough
• headache
• runny or stuffy nose

Flu can make some people much sicker than others. These people include young children; people age 65 and older; pregnant women; and people with certain health conditions such as heart, lung or kidney disease, nervous system disorders or a weakened immune system. Flu vaccination is especially important for these people, and anyone in close contact with them. Each year thousands of people in the U.S. die from the flu, and many more are hospitalized. Flu vaccine is the best protection against the flu and its complications.

There are two different types of flu vaccine. The injectable vaccine is either an “inactivated” or “recombinant” vaccine. These vaccines do not contain any live influenza virus. A second kind of vaccine is a live, attenuated (weakened) influenza vaccine that is sprayed into the nostrils.

Flu vaccination is recommended every year. Some children 6 months through 8 years of age might need two doses during one year. Each year’s flu vaccine is made to protect against three of four viruses that are likely to cause disease that year. It takes about two weeks for protection to develop after the vaccination, and protection lasts several months to a year. Depending on which strain of flu virus is prevalent that year, the vaccine may not provide complete protection, but it can help decrease the severity of the infection if you do get it.

Some people should not receive the flu vaccine. Tell the person who gives you the vaccine:

• If you have any severe, life-threatening allergies.

• If you ever had a 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. You may be advised not to get vaccinated. Most, but not all, types of flu vaccine contain a small amount of egg protein. Discuss this with your doctor.

• If you ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS). Some people with a history of GBS should not get this vaccine. This should be discussed with your doctor.

• If you are not feeling well. It is usually okay to get flu vaccine when you have a mild illness, but you might be advised to wait until you feel better.

—Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

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