When you contract a flu virus, it multiplies inside your body and overwhelms your immune system, which then must play catch up with its production of antibodies to help fight the virus. Vaccines give your body a leg up in this battle. Flu vaccines introduce into your body weakened versions of the flu strain, thus prompting the production of antibodies by your immune system. These antibodies are then in place to battle the "wild" virus, should it enter your system. A vaccine for swine flu is being fast-tracked through development for widespread distribution to the public. The CDC recommends you get vaccinated, especially if you have a condition that puts you at high risk of flu complications, such as asthma, diabetes, pregnancy or anything that weakens your immune response. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, anyone who wants to reduce their risk of the flu can get a flu shot. The flu shot is approved for anyone older that 6 months of age. Some people have a higher risk of the disease. You should be vaccinated each year if you:
- Are 50 or older
- Have chronic lung or heart disease
- Have sickle cell anemia and other hemoglobinopathies
- Live in a nursing home or extended care facilities
- Live in any type of housing where there are chronic health problems
- Have kidney disease, anemia, severe asthma, diabetes, or chronic liver disease
- Have a weakened immune system (including those with cancer or HIV/AIDS)
- Receive long-term treatment with steroids for any condition
- Expect to be past the 3rd month of pregnancy during the flu season (you may want to consider requesting the mercury-free flu vaccine)
Children and teenagers receiving long-term aspirin therapy and children between the age of 6 months and 2 years should also receive a flu shot each year. Mercury-free vaccines are preferred in younger children. The flu shot is also recommended for health care providers who work in high-risk settings and direct contacts or caretakers of high-risk individuals. The flu shot is encouraged for:
- People who have in-home contact with infants who are younger than 6 months old
- People who provide essential community services
- People living in dormitories or other crowded conditions
- Anyone who wants to reduce their change of getting influenza
Children under age 9 require two shots one month apart the first time that they receive influenza vaccine. Older children and adults only require a single shot each year.
Most people achieve protection from the flu approximately 2 weeks after receiving the vaccine.
Immunization of high-risk people reduces the risk of death from the flu. Immunization of those caring for high-risk people reduces the risk of spreading the disease to other people who may have a higher than average risk for complications. The Risks: Most people have no side effects from the flu shot. Soreness at the injection site or minor aches and low grade fever may be present for several days.