The best way to prevent flu and its potentially serious complications is getting a flu vaccine.
Fall brings cooler temperatures, colorful leaves, and football games. It also means another flu season is upon us. Last year’s was rough. The CDC classified 2017-2018 a high severity season with high levels of outpatient clinic and emergency department visits for influenza-like illness, high influenza-related hospitalization rates, and widespread influenza activity across the United States for an extended period. The CDC estimates the flu caused between 140,000 and 710,000 hospitalizations and between 12,000 and 56,000 deaths annually in the U.S. since 2010. While estimates for last season won’t be available until later in the fall, it’s likely that last season was record-breaking across both of these key indicators used to track severity. It’s not possible to predict how severe the upcoming season will be, but we know that the best way to prevent flu and its potentially serious complications is a flu vaccine.
Flu viruses infect the nose, throat, and lungs and can cause a wide range of complications. Sinus and ear infections are examples of moderate complications from flu. Pneumonia is a serious flu complication that can result from either flu virus infection alone or from co-infection of flu virus and bacteria. Flu virus infection can also cause serious complications like inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis) or muscle (myositis, rhabdomyolysis), and multi-organ failure (for example, respiratory and kidney failure). Flu can also trigger an extreme inflammatory response in the body and can lead to sepsis, the body’s life-threatening response to infection. The U.S. experienced high rates of hospitalization and severe disease during the past seven flu seasons.
Flu vaccination can help keep you from getting sick from flu. Protecting yourself from flu also helps protect the people around you who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness.
People at High Risk of Flu Complications:
Children younger than 5, but especially younger than 2 years old;
People 65 and older;
People with asthma, heart disease, chronic lung disease, and neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions;
People with blood, kidney, liver, endocrine, and metabolic disorders, including diabetes mellitus;
People who have a weakened immune system due to disease or medication;
Pregnant women and women up to two weeks postpartum;
Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.
For the full list of high-risk conditions, visit People at High Risk of Developing Flu-Related Complications.
CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older as the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease. While the flu vaccine can vary in how well it works, it is the best tool modern medicine currently has to prevent infection with influenza viruses. CDC estimates that for the 2016-2017 flu season, nearly 47 percent of the population were vaccinated. Influenza vaccination prevented an estimated 5.3 million illnesses, 2.6 million influenza-associated medical visits, and 85,000 hospitalizations associated with influenza. CDC experts calculated that a 5 percentage point increase in vaccination rates could have prevented another 483,000 influenza illnesses, 232,000 influenza-associated medical visits, and 7,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations across the U.S. population.
We know that flu illness can be serious and that flu vaccine can prevent illness. Let’s clear up some issues that discourage people from getting vaccinated:
A flu vaccine cannot give you flu. The most common side effects from a flu shot are soreness, redness and/or swelling where the shot was given, fever, and/or muscle aches. These side effects are NOT flu. If you do experience side effects, they are usually mild and short-lived, especially when compared to symptoms from a bad case of flu.
Flu vaccines are among the safest medical products in use. Hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received flu vaccines over the past 50 years. Extensive research supports the safety of flu vaccines. CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) closely monitor the safety of vaccines approved for use in the U.S.
Sick girl in bed getting her temperature checked
Reasons to Get a Flu Shot
Flu vaccine has been shown to reduce flu illnesses and reduce the risk of flu hospitalization, ICU admission and even death in children.
Flu vaccination also is an important preventive tool for people with chronic health conditions. (heart disease, lung disease, diabetes)
In addition to helping to protect pregnant woman from flu illness and hospitalization, a flu vaccine given during pregnancy has been shown to help protect the baby from flu infection for several months after birth, before he or she is old enough to be vaccinated.
A 2017 study showed that flu vaccine can be life-saving in children.
Flu vaccination also may make your illness milder if you do get sick. (For example a 2017 study showed that flu vaccination reduced deaths, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, ICU length of stay, and overall duration of hospitalization among hospitalized flu patients.)
What flu vaccines are available this season?
For the 2018-2019 flu season, options include:
Standard dose flu shots. These are given into the muscle. They are usually injected with a needle, but two (Alfluria and Alfluria Quadrivalent) can be given to some people (those aged 18 through 64 years) with a jet injector.
High-dose shots for older people. Flu vaccines are among the safest medical products in use. Hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received flu vaccines over the past 50 years. Extensive research supports the safety of flu vaccines. CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) closely monitor the safety of vaccines approved for use in the U.S.
Shots made with adjuvant for older people.
Shots made with virus grown in cell culture.
Shots made using a vaccine production technology (recombinant vaccine) that does not require the use of flu virus.
Live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) – or the nasal spray vaccine – is approved for use in non-pregnant individuals, 2 years through 49 years of age. There is a precaution against the use of nasal spray flu vaccine in people with underlying medical conditions.
CDC and its vaccines advisory committee (ACIP) recommend providers use any licensed, age-appropriate flu vaccine with no preference for one vaccine over another.
It’s best to get vaccinated before flu begins spreading in your community. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for your body to develop protection against flu. This flu season protect yourself, your family, your friends, and your community. Get a flu vaccine by the end of October.
Talk to your health care provider if you have questions about the benefits of flu vaccination. Flu vaccine provides protective properties even in years the vaccine does not closely match the flu viruses in circulation. For more information about vaccine effectiveness, visit How Well Does the Seasonal Flu Vaccine Work?
Along with CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases, and many other professional medical groups recommend an annual flu vaccine. Many people choose not to get vaccinated thinking that they do not work, or that the flu vaccine will give them the flu. Years of research disproves those misconceptions. Don’t skip getting a flu vaccine!
Where to Get Vaccinated:
Flu vaccines are offered in many locations, including doctor’s offices, clinics, health departments, pharmacies and college health centers, as well as by many employers, and even in some schools. To find flu vaccine in your area use the HealthMap Vaccine Finder.