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Flu shot: Your best bet for avoiding influenza
What are my options for the flu vaccine?
The flu vaccine comes in two forms:
- A shot. A flu shot contains an inactivated vaccine made of killed virus. The injection is usually given in the arm. An intradermal (in the skin) vaccine is also available for people 18 to 64 years of age. Because the viruses in this vaccine are killed (inactivated), the shot won't cause you to get the flu, but it will enable your body to develop the antibodies necessary to ward off influenza viruses.
- A nasal spray. The nasal spray vaccine (FluMist) consists of a low dose of live, but weakened, flu viruses and is approved for use in healthy people 2 to 49 years of age who aren't pregnant. The vaccine doesn't cause the flu, but it does prompt an immune response in your nose and upper airways, as well as throughout your body.
What are the main differences between the two types of flu vaccine?
Both the flu shot and the nasal spray help protect you from influenza. But there are differences to consider before deciding between the two.
|Flu shot||Nasal spray|
|Administered through a needle — you'll need an injection||Administered through a spray — you won't need an injection|
|Contains killed viruses — you can't pass the flu along to anyone else||Contains weakened live viruses that won't give you the flu but that can, in rare cases, be transmitted to others|
|Approved for use in people 6 months of age and older||Approved for healthy people ages 2 to 49 years|
|Can be used in people at increased risk of flu-related complications, including pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions||Given only to nonpregnant healthy people, not to those with chronic medical conditions, suppressed immune systems, or to children and adolescents receiving aspirin therapy|
Can the vaccine give me the flu?
No. The flu vaccine can't give you the flu. But you might develop flu-like symptoms — despite getting a flu shot — for a variety of reasons, including:
- Reaction to the vaccine. Some people experience muscle aches and fever for a day or two after receiving a flu shot. This may be a side effect of your body's production of protective antibodies. The nasal vaccine can cause runny nose, headache and sore throat.
- The two-week window. It takes about two weeks for the flu shot to take full effect. If you're exposed to the influenza virus shortly before or during that time period, you might catch the flu.
- Mismatched flu viruses. In some years, the influenza viruses used for the vaccine don't match the viruses circulating during the flu season. If this occurs, your flu shot won't protect you.
- Other illnesses. Many other diseases, such as the common cold, also produce flu-like symptoms. So you may think you have the flu when you actually don't.
What kind of protection does the flu vaccine offer?
Flu vaccines aren't 100 percent effective. According to the CDC, in past flu seasons when the match between flu vaccine and circulating strains of flu virus is close, a flu shot is between 60 and 70 percent effective in warding off influenza in all age groups combined.
Can I lower my risk of the flu without getting a flu shot?
With or without a flu shot, you can take steps to help protect yourself from the flu and other viruses. Good hygiene remains your primary defense against contagious illnesses.
- Wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and water.
- Use an alcohol-based sanitizer on your hands if soap and water aren't available.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth whenever possible.
- Avoid crowds when the flu is most prevalent in your area.
(2 of 2)
- Vaccine virus selection for the 2012-2013 influenza season. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/vaccine-selection.htm. Accessed July 24, 2012.
- What you should know for the 2012-2013 influenza season. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2012-2013.htm. Accessed July 24, 2012.
- Who should get vaccinated against influenza. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/whoshouldvax.htm. Accessed July 24, 2012.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, et al. Prevention and control of influenza with vaccines: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), 2011. MMWR. 2011;60:1128.
- Key facts about seasonal flu vaccine. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts.htm. Accessed June 4, 2012.
- Steckelberg JM (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. June 4, 2012.
- Vaccine information statement: Influenza vaccine 2012-2013 — live, intranasal. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/vis/downloads/vis-flu.pdf. Accessed July 25, 2012.
- Vaccine effectiveness — How well does the flu vaccine work? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/vaccineeffect.htm. Accessed July 25, 2012.
- Preventing the flu: Good health habits can help stop germs. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/habits.htm. Accessed July 25, 2012.
- FDA approves first seasonal influenza vaccine manufactured using cell culture technology. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. http://www.fda.gov/NewsEvents/Newsroom/PressAnnouncements/ucm328982.htm. Accessed Nov. 20, 2012.