It’s that time of year again. Football is a major topic of conversation at the office. Soon the leaves will be turning bright shades of red and orange. And it’s time to start thinking about getting your flu shot.
Sure, the flu vaccine isn’t fun like leaf-gazing and football games, but it helps keep you and those around you healthy during flu season.
Why Get a Flu Vaccine?
About 36,000 people die from the flu each year, according to UVA’s Daniel McCarter, MD, a primary care doctor at Stoney Creek Family Practice in Nelson County, associate chief medical officer for ambulatory services and medical director for regional primary care.
Most people experience no side effects from the vaccine and the risk of experiencing side effects is much smaller than the risk of getting the flu or suffering complications from the flu, McCarter says.
What About the Swine Flu?
Swine flu has made the news recently, but it’s not included in this year’s flu vaccine, according to the flu.gov site.
The new swine flu strain (or H3N2v) has only affected a small number of people — about 200 — and most of them were infected by pigs, not humans, McCarter says. Find out more about swine flu.
Do You Need a Flu Shot Every Year?
Yes, because the vaccine changes each flu season based on the strains of flu that are prevalent that year, McCarter says. The flu virus is constantly changing and the vaccine changes along with it. McCarter recommends getting the flu shot in late September or October, though if you forget, you can still get the vaccine later in the flu season.
Full protection from the shot doesn’t take effect until 5-10 days after you get the vaccine, so if you’re traveling, you might want to keep that in mind, he says.
Who Should Get a Flu Shot?
According to the CDC, the following people are more at risk from complications from the flu:
- Kids ages 6 months to 18 years
- Adults over 50
- Pregnant women
- Nursing home residents
- Adults ages 18-50 with chronic conditions like heart or lung disease, asthma or diabetes
What If You Don’t Fit One of Those Categories?
You still might benefit from a flu shot. When you get the flu vaccine, you protect others close to you and people who are most at risk from flu complications. McCarter says that even if you’re young and healthy, you should consider getting the flu shot if you take care of or are around:
- Very young children
- Elderly people
- Immune-compromised people (people on medications for rheumatoid arthritis or lupus)
Who Should NOT Get a Flu Vaccine?
Those who shouldn’t get a vaccine include:
- People with a severe allergy to chicken eggs
- Those who’ve had a previous severe reaction to the vaccine
- Children younger than 6 months of age
- Those with a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome
You also shouldn’t get the shot if you have a fever. Wait until you feel better before you get it.
What About Vaccine Side Effects?
Side effects are rare, but usually begin soon after you get the shot and they last for one or two days.
Side effects include:
- Soreness and swelling at the site of the injection
- Red, itchy eyes
Moderate and severe problems are very rare. You can find out more about these side effects at the federal government’s flu.gov site.
Intranasal Flu Vaccine: Another Option
Anyone ages 2-49 can get the intranasal flu vaccine, which contains live, but weakened, flu virus. The intranasal vaccine is sprayed into your nostrils. This might be a good option for children (or adults) who are scared of needles. McCarter says it’s a little bit more likely to cause flu-like symptoms because it’s a live virus, which is why it’s not recommended for the very young or older people. The live vaccine is not recommended for pregnant women or people with certain long-term health problems.
Where to Get the Flu Vaccine
If you’re a patient at one of UVA’s primary care practices, you can call to make an appointment for the flu shot. (Walk-ins are not recommended.) You can also get the shot at local pharmacies or your local health department.
“The important thing is getting the flu shot. The secondary thing is where you get it,” says McCarter.
Get the Flu Vaccine:
- Use this vaccine finder to find out where to go to get a flu shot.
- Are you a patient at one of UVA’s primary care locations? Call your doctor’s office to make an appointment. Many of our clinics will have flu shot clinics separate from regular appointments. These clinics vary by location, so call your doctor’s office to see what’s available.
- If you’re not a UVA primary care patient, you can find out more about our primary care services. If you live in Central Virginia, chances are we have a location that’s convenient for you.