Can you prevent influenza (flu)?
Yes. If you get the flu vaccine, you are likely to be protected from the flu for the duration of the flu season. The vaccine is given as a shot or a nasal spray. You must get the vaccine every year in the fall to be protected. Sometimes the vaccine does not prevent you from getting the flu but makes the flu less severe if you do get it. The vaccine is safe, even for pregnant women. You can’t get the flu from the ‘flu shot.’
In addition, some of the antivirals (Relenza and Tamiflu) given to treat flu can be given to prevent flu in people who are in close contact with people who actually have the flu.
Because the flu is so contagious, you can do other things that may help you prevent getting or spreading the flu:
- Practice good hand-washing hygiene. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water. If you aren’t able to use soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid being around other people when you do not feel well, especially when you have a fever.
- Avoid being around sick people whenever possible.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Eat well, exercise, and get enough rest.
- Consider taking a multivitamin and possibly vitamin D supplements to support your immune system. (Ask your healthcare provider if they think you need extra D.)
Who should get the flu vaccine?
It’s recommended that everyone 6 months or older should get an influenza vaccine each year. You will protect yourself and other people around you. People who have any of the following conditions are at high risk of becoming seriously ill from influenza :
- Lung disease.
- Kidney disease.
- Liver disease.
- Neurologic diseases.
- Heart problems.
- An illness that weakens the immune system, or if you are taking a medicine that weakens the immune system, thus making it hard for your body to fight illnesses.
- Blood disorders.
You also have a higher risk of becoming seriously ill from influenza if you:
- Are younger than 2 years, or over 65 years old.
- Are pregnant and for 2 weeks after delivery
- Are under 19 years old and must take aspirin regularly.
- Live in a nursing home.
If you work in a healthcare facility, you may transmit influenza to patients and other workers, but you are not at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill. The recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is that everyone over the age of 6 months gets a flu vaccine if there are no contraindications. This includes individuals who are not at high risk.
Who shouldn’t get the flu vaccine?
You shouldn’t get the influenza shot if you are
- Severely allergic to a previous dose of any influenza vaccine, regardless of the vaccine component (so including eggs) suspected of being responsible for the reaction.
- Sick with a fever. (Wait until you are better.)
There is an option to get the nasal flu vaccine (administered through your nose). The following groups of people shouldn't get the nasal flu vaccine:
- Children and adolescents who are taking aspirin or any type of salicylate-containing medication therapies.
- Children who are 2-4 years of age who have been diagnosed with asthma or whose parents/caregivers can say that a healthcare provider has told them during the past 12 months that the child has had wheezing events or asthma; or a child who has a wheezing episode documented in their medical record.
- Children or adults whose immune systems are compromised for any reason, including drugs or HIV infection.
- Caregivers or close contacts of severely immunosuppressed people who need a protected environment.
- Pregnant people.
- People who have received antiviral drugs to treat the flu within the past 48 hours.
(Please remember that the above list is for people who should not receive the NASAL flu vaccine. It does not refer to the flu shot.)
When should you get the flu vaccine?
The best time to get the flu vaccine is in the early fall. It takes about 3 weeks for the vaccine to exert its protective benefits, so don’t delay receiving it.