1. Why get vaccinated? Influenza is a serious disease. It is caused by a virus that spreads from infected persons to the nose or throat of others. Adults spread the virus one day prior to symptoms until five days afterwards. Children spread the disease over ten days. The “influenza season” in the U.S. is from November to March or April each year, but can start as early as August.

Influenza can cause: fever, cough, chills, sore throat, headache, and muscle aches.

People of any age can get influenza. Most people are ill with influenza for only a few days, but some get more sick and may need to be hospitalized. Influenza causes thousands of deaths each year, mostly among the elderly, the young (less than 2 years old), and those with chronic illnesses.

Influenza vaccine can prevent influenza.

2. Influenza vaccine. The viruses that cause influenza change often. Because of this, influenza vaccine is updated each year by replacing at least one of the vaccine viruses with a newer one. This is done to make sure that influenza vaccine is as up-to-date as possible. This year’s flu shot (2010) will protect against the H1N1 virus, too.

Protection develops about 2 weeks after the shot and may last up to one year.

3. Who should get influenza vaccine? People at risk for getting a serious case of influenza or complications – or people in close contact with them – should definitely receive the vaccine. This year, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that everyone over 6 months old receive the vaccine. Those at highest risk include:

– Everyone 65 years of age or older.
– Children age 6-23 months of age.
– Residents of long-term care facilities who have chronic medical conditions.
– Anyone who has a serious long-term health problem with heart disease, lung disease, asthma, kidney disease, metabolic disease, such as diabetes or anemia, and any other blood disorders.
– Anyone whose immune system is weakened because of: HIV/AIDS or other diseases that affect the immune system, long-term treatment with drugs such as steroids, or cancer treatment with x-rays or drugs.
– Women who will be past the 3rd month of pregnancy during the influenza season.
– Healthcare workers.

Others who should consider getting the influenza vaccine include:
– Persons 2-18 years old who are in contact with children under 2, people over 65, or those who have chronic disease.
– People who provide essential community services
– Travelers to the Southern hemisphere between April and September, or those traveling to the tropics any time
– Students and staff at schools and colleges, to prevent outbreaks
– Anyone who wants to reduce their chance of catching influenza

People 9 years of age and older need one shot.
Children less than 9 years old may need two shots, given one month apart.

4. When should I get influenza vaccine? The best time to get the influenza vaccine is between September and December. However, it can be given through March. A new shot is needed each year. Influenza vaccine can be given at the same time as other vaccines, including pneumococcal and herpes zoster vaccine.
5. Can I get influenza even though I get the vaccine each year? Yes. Influenza viruses change often, and they might not always be covered by the vaccine. But, people who do get influenza despite being vaccinated often have a milder case than those who did not get the shot.

Also, to many people, “the flu” is any illness with fever and cold symptoms. They may expect influenza vaccine to prevent these illnesses. But, influenza vaccine is effective only against illness caused by influenza viruses, and not against other causes of fever and colds.

6. I’ve heard of a nasal mist that can be used instead of a shot for immunization. Who can take that? It is only approved for healthy children and adolescents between 5 and 17 years of age and healthy adults who are 18 to 49 years of age. It is quite a bit more expensive.

7. Some people should consult with a doctor before getting influenza vaccine. Consult with a doctor before getting an influenza vaccination if you:

1) Ever had a serious allergic reaction to eggs or a previous dose of influenza vaccine or
2) Have a history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS).

If you are moderately or severely ill at the time the shot is scheduled you should usually wait until you recover before getting the influenza vaccine. Talk to your doctor or nurse about rescheduling the vaccination.

8. What are the risks from influenza vaccine? A vaccine, like any medicine, is capable of causing serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. The risk of a vaccine causing serious harm, or death, is extremely small. Almost all people who get influenza vaccine have not serious problems with it. The viruses in the vaccine are killed, so you cannot get influenza from the vaccine.

Mild problems include soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given, fever, aches. If these problems occur, they usually begin soon after the shot and last 1-2 days.

Severe problems: Life-threatening allergic reactions are very rare. If they occur, it is within a few minutes to a few hours after the shot.

9. What if there is a moderate or severe reaction?

What should I look for? Any unusual condition, such as a high fever or behavior changes. Signs of a serious allergic reaction can include difficulty breathing, hoarseness or wheezing, hives, paleness, weakness, a fast heart beat or dizziness.

What should I do?

Call a doctor or get the person to a doctor right away.
Tell your doctor what happened, the date and time it happened, and when the vaccination was given.
Ask your doctor, nurse, or health department to file a Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) form, or call VAERS yourself at 1-800-822-7967.

10. How can I learn more?

Ask your doctor or nurse. They can give you the vaccine package insert or suggest other sources of information.
Call your local or state health department.
Contact the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
Call 1-800-232-2522 (English), 1-800-232-0233 (Spanish)
Visit the National Immunization Program’s website at http://www.cdc.gov/Features/FluPrevention/

11. So, which of the following should receive the flu vaccine?
A 10 month old healthy baby boy?
A 13 year old child who lives with her 72 year old grandmother?
A 25 year old person who has asthma?
A 32 year old woman who is pregnant with her second child (the child is due in January)?
Everyone over six months old?
A 67 year old active senior?
According to the Michigan Department of Community Health, the correct answer is that all of these people should receive the flu vaccine.

Republished with the permission of John L. Pfenninger, M.D. – mpcenter.net