With the start of fall comes the start of flu season. This year, H1N1 and two other variations of the flu are expected to circulate throughout the country. Flu activity usually begins to increase during October and reaches its most prominent point between December and February, making now the best time to get vaccinated. You will be able to receive your flu shot from now until the vaccinations run out, which may be as early as the end of November. Thinking about opting out of getting vaccinated this year? We have five reasons to reconsider.
#1 — The flu vaccine cannot make you sick.
Contrary to popular belief, getting the flu vaccine cannot give you flu. This is because the vaccine in injection form does not contain the active virus. It contains a dead version of it. Although the virus is dead, when injected, it causes your body to recognize it as a foreign substance and produce antibodies to fight it. That way, when you come across the active flu virus at work, school or anywhere else in your daily life, your body will already have the right materials ready to fight it off.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), after receiving your flu shot, it takes your body about two weeks to develop the correct antibodies to provide you with maximum protection. Even if you do come across the active flu virus during this two-week period, the vaccine will still help lessen your symptoms. If you feel that you have gotten sick soon after your flu shot, it may be due to an allergic reaction or the common cold, which can cause similar symptoms as flu even though they’re unrelated. If you have a severe egg allergy, speak to your doctor before receiving the flu vaccine. In many cases, you can still get vaccinated.
#2 — The vaccine is updated yearly.
Each year, doctors and researchers work together to predict which strains of the influenza virus are expected to be most common in the upcoming season. This way, they known which type of vaccine to administer to best protect the general public. Not only do the strains of flu vary each season, but the actual viruses evolve very quickly, making it necessary to create a new vaccine each year. Over time, the effectiveness of a flu shot will gradually decline in your immune system, so even if you received a shot last season, you will likely require another this year for adequate protection.
#3 — Getting the vaccine contributes to “herd immunity.”
By receiving your flu shot, not only do you reduce the risk of catching flu yourself, but you can also protect those around you. Some individuals are not able to receive the flu vaccine, such as those with certain chronic health conditions, people with compromised immune systems and infants under 6 months of age. Others may be eligible to receive the vaccine but are still at a higher risk of becoming ill, such as older adults. By not allowing yourself to get infected, you protect those individuals by keeping them out of contact with the virus. This idea is commonly known as “herd immunity” or “community immunity” and is very effective in preventing the spread of infection.
#4 — You can avoid serious complications from the virus itself.
The CDC reports that since 2010, the flu virus has caused between 9.2 million and 60.8 million illnesses; between 140,000 and 710,000 hospitalizations; and between 12,000 and 56,000 deaths annually. The virus can cause pneumonia, dehydration, ear and sinus infections, and in severe cases, swelling of the heart, brain or muscles. Some people are at an increased risk of developing complications from the flu, including infants, pregnant women, adults over 65, and people with chronic health conditions and suppressed immune systems. The easiest method to avoid these issues is to never get sick with the flu in the first place.
#5 — The right flu vaccine can reduce your risk of getting flu by 40-60 percent.
Although actual numbers can vary by person, age and season, the flu vaccine does significantly reduce your risk of catching the flu virus. It’s also important to note that for the second year in a row, the CDC is not recommending the nasal spray alternative to the flu vaccine. While the nasal spray alternative is popular among many (especially children) as it’s simple and painless, the CDC is not recommending it for the 2017 flu season because it offers significantly less protection compared to the actual shot for the viruses circulating this season.
While the flu vaccine is not 100 percent effective, it’s your best shot (pun intended) at protecting yourself from the dreaded flu. Along with receiving your yearly vaccine, you should frequently wash your hands; avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth; and get plenty of rest in order to avoid becoming ill. If you do feel yourself getting sick (fever, aches, weakness, congestion, chills, excessive sweating, etc.), be sure to stay home from school or work to avoid spreading infection.