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HealthSheets™

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 as a shot or a nasal spray. It’s best to get vaccinated each year, as soon 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 for many 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. This varies from year to year. Flu vaccines are made from these strains. With the shot, inactivated flu viruses are injected into your body. The viruses have been killed and can't 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. Older adults don't make these antibodies as well as younger people do. So a special high-strength flu vaccine is given to people older than 65. Your healthcare provider can tell you which type of flu vaccine is right for you.

Who should get the flu vaccine?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the CDC recommend that babies older than 6 months and all children, teens, and adults get a flu vaccine every year. Pregnant women should also be vaccinated.

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

For the 2018-2019 flu season, the flu vaccine is available in several forms. Most flu shots are given in an arm muscle with a needle. Talk with your healthcare provider about which form 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. Flu shots are 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

A nasal spray made of live but weakened flu virus may also be given for the 2018-2019 flu season. This is for healthy non-pregnant people between ages 2 years and 49 years who don't get the flu shot.

Needle-free injector

A needle-free device called a jet injector can give a 2-dose flu vaccine through the skin. This may be an option for people 18 to 64 years old.

© 2000-2018 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 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.