Should I get a flu shot?

girl scared of a shot
It may sting for a minute, but if you are an adult or child with a chronic illness, pregnant or over age 50, you should consider the shot. See more staying healthy pictures.
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If you want a fighting chance against the flu, doctors recommend that you get an annual flu shot. The good news is that the flu shot side effects are minor and shouldn't be a concern if you're looking to get a flu shot vaccine. If you have no specific conditions or allergies to the flu shot, anyone over the age of 6 months can receive the flu vaccine. Because it takes 2 weeks for the flu vaccine to take effect, it's best to get your flu shot early in the season. While many people are scared that one of the flu shot vaccine side effects is to get a bout of the flu, the truth is that the flu shot will NOT give you the flu: The flu virus in that needle going into your arm is dead, making it impossible for you to catch the flu by getting a flu shot or getting near someone who just had a flu shot vaccine. Because the flu shot side effects are so few, if you are in an at-risk group, don't play Russian roulette by not getting the flu shot vaccine - for many, it becomes a matter of life or death.

CDC Recommendations

The Center for Disease Control urges the following at-risk groups to be immunized:


  • people age 50 and over
  • residents of nursing homes or other chronic-care facilities;
  • adults and children who have chronic lung or heart problems, including children with asthma;
  • adults and children who have chronic metabolic diseases (such as diabetes mellitus), renal dysfunction, hemoglobinopathies, or immunosuppression (such as HIV);
  • children and teens who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy (who have the potential to develop Reye's Syndrome after the flu);
  • women in their second or third trimester of pregnancy during the flu season.

You should also think seriously about getting a flu shot if:

  • you are in contact with at-risk people. This includes health care providers, employees of nursing homes and chronic-care facilities, home-care providers, emergency-response people, and household members
  • you live in an institutional setting, such as college students and members of the armed services


What are the possible side effects?

What can you expect if you've had the flu shot? Not much, as flu vaccines are tolerated by most people. There may be some side effects:

  • primarily a low grade fever for 8 to 24 hours after you receive the shot.
  • a swollen, red, tender area around the vaccination spot.
  • And a few people, especially children, may develop slight chills or a headache within 24 hours, but the symptoms go away within a day or so.

If you are allergic to eggs, consult your doctor before getting a flu shot: Because the egg in which the virus was grown cannot be completely extracted, people with hypersensitivity to egg products may have to try other options to fight the flu. One rare reaction to the vaccine is the Guillain-Barr Syndrome, a severe paralytic illness that was particularly prevalent during the Swine flu vaccinations in 1976.


Medicines that can also protect you

Tamiflu is another option to protect from the flu.
Photo courtesy Roche

If you haven't been able to receive a shot and there's an outbreak in your area, you can improve your odds against getting the flu with three drugs approved by the FDA to protect from the flu.

Each of the drugs is also approved to reduce the length and severity of the flu if you've already contracted it. Amantadine (Symmetrel) and rimantadine (Flumadine), which have long been approved to increase resistance to the flu, have recently been joined by oseltamivir (Tamiflu). All three appear to improve one's resistance to the virus by interfering with the virus's ability to infect and replicate inside the body.


Shampoo and nasal spray vaccines on the horizon

What will fighting the flu mean in the future? It may not do anything for split ends, but a shampoo or patch may one day replace needles when you get your flu vaccination. Researchers at Stanford University and the University of Alabama at Birmingham have been working with naked DNA, a strand of the basic genetic building blocks known as nucleotides.

Although most vaccines are repelled by the skin (which is one reason why they they are injected into the body) scientists packaged this vaccine into a cold virus (known as an adenovirus) that helps transport the DNA into skin cells, provoking the immune system to respond. Successfully used so far on mice for hepatitis, the researchers hope it will one day work for humans. A new nasal spray flu vaccine is already showing promise, especially for healthy young children. According to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the cold-adapted vaccine cannot grow in the warmer temperatures found in the lower respiratory tract, but it grows well in the cooler nasal passages. After being sprayed into the nose, the vaccine mimics a natural infection and jump-starts your immune system without actually causing disease.


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