Influenza (“flu”) is a contagious illness. The flu is a viral disease, which spreads from human contact such as coughing, sneezing or shaking hands. Common flu symptoms are fever, headaches, muscle aches, fatigue, cough and sore throat. Many other illnesses have similar symptoms, but only the influenza virus can cause the flu.
Why Get a Flu Shot?
The influenza vaccine can prevent influenza. While flu symptoms usually last only a few days, influenza can lead to more serious illnesses such as pneumonia. The flu is dangerous for people with heart or breathing problems, especially the elderly. About 36,000 people each year die from influenza.
What is a Flu Shot?
A flu shot is an inactivated (killed) vaccine given by injection. Vaccines change every year, because the influenza virus constantly changes. Affinity recommends annual flu shots.
The influenza vaccine prevents the flu in most people. It does not prevent illnesses which cause similar symptoms to the flu but aren’t caused by the influenza virus. Flu shot protection develops for about two weeks after the shot and lasts about one year.
Who Should Get a Flu Shot?
Anyone over 6 months of age can receive a flu shot. Affinity recommends flu shots for people who are at risk of developing serious complications from influenza and their household members.
People who should get a flu shot due to risk of complications from the flu include:
- adults age 50 and older
- residents of assisted living or other long-term care facilities
- people with muscle or nerve conditions which can lead to difficultly breathing or swallowing, such as seizure disorders or cerebral palsy
- people with a weakened immune system due to immune diseases such as HIV/AIDS, long-term treatment with steroids or other drugs or people undergoing cancer treatment
- children age 6 months to 18 years old who are taking aspirin (Reye Syndrome can result)
- pregnant women
- all children under 5
- doctors, nurses and others in close contact with high-risk people
- people who have health problems such as:
- heart disease
- lung disease
- kidney disease
- diabetes or other endocrine conditions
- anemia or other blood disorders
- The following people should also consider getting a flu shot:
- people who provide essential community services, such as police and fire departments
- people who live in dormitories or other crowded living situations
- people who travel in tour groups or visit the Southern hemisphere or tropics
When Should I Get a Flu Shot?
Affinity recommends residents of Northeast Wisconsin get a flu shot in October or November each year. Higher-risk people should get the vaccine in October or earlier.
Children under 9 receiving their first flu shot should get two doses at least one month apart.
Who Should Not Get a Flu Shot?
While most people benefit from a flu shot, some people should not get them. Examples are people with a severe egg allergy, people who are allergic to any of the components of the vaccine and those who have reacted to previous flu shots. People who have had Guillain-Barre Syndrome should tell their doctor, who can help you decide if the flu shot is right for you. People with a mild illness can usually get a flu shot, but if you’re moderately or severely ill, you should wait until you feel better to get a flu shot.
Risks of Flu Shots
Any vaccine or medicine has possible side effects, such as an allergic reaction. The flu shot is generally safe and the risks are small. Some people have soreness, redness or swelling at the site of the injection, and some people feel achy or feverish. These effects usually start soon after the injection and last for one or two days. Severe risks, while rare, do occur. Usually, severe reactions happen within a few minutes or hours after the shot. Report any unusual symptoms, such as high fever or difficulty breathing, to your doctor right away.
Availability of Flu Shots
During the 2007-2008 influenza season, Affinity Health System will provide flu shots to patients over 6 months old and to Affinity employees.
You may get a flu shot at one of several locations:
- Your doctor’s office during an already-scheduled appointment for something else, beginning in September (pending availability)
- Your primary care doctor’s office during a flu shot appointment, Oct. 30 through Dec. 1
You can take an active role in reducing your risk of getting the flu by doing the following:
- get an influenza vaccine – ideally in October or November each year
- avoid large crowds
- wash your hands frequently
- get plenty of rest
- eat a well-balanced diet
For more information about flu shots, influenza or other health questions, contact your doctor or Affinity NurseDirect at 1-800-362-9900 toll-free.