It is that time of year when we begin to see many upper respiratory illnesses like the common cold, and yes the dreaded flu.

Patients often ask physicians why they should get a flu shot and the answer is simple. Influenza is a highly contagious virus with up to one in five people in the United States affected every year and the best way to prevent seasonal flu is the annual vaccination. Everyone 6 months and older should get a flu shot.

Here are some of the top questions we hear from patients.

“When should I get my vaccine?”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend a flu shot as soon as they become available, ideally by the end of October since flu illness is most common during the fall and winter, although activity can last as late as May.

“Why do I need it every year?”

Because flu viruses are constantly changing, the vaccine is reviewed annually and updated to keep up with the changing viruses. In addition, your body’s immune response from vaccination declines over time, so an annual shot is needed for optimal protection.

“Which flu shot should I get?”

The CDC does not recommend one type of vaccine over another among the approved injectable influenza vaccines. There are two vaccines approved for senior citizens that work better than the standard dose. Like last year, use of nasal spray vaccine is not recommended this season.

“I got sick last time I had the shot.

Can the flu shot give me the flu?”

No, the vaccine cannot give you the flu. The vaccine is made from an inactivated, or dead, virus that cannot pass on infection.

“I don’t need the flu shot because

I never get sick, right?”

Healthy adults infected with the flu may have minimal or no symptoms. Even if you do not get sick, others may. Vaccination not only protects you, but it also helps protect others that may be at greater risk of suffering complications from the flu. It is like wearing a seat belt — we do not plan to get into a car accident but we still wear our seat belt to protect ourselves from getting hurt in case we do.

No vaccine is 100 percent effective, but getting your flu shot every year can reduce your risk of getting the disease. If you get the flu despite having the flu vaccine, it can prevent serious complications and death from the virus.

In addition to vaccination, ways to prevent the flu are to wash your hands frequently, get plenty of sleep, eat healthy, exercise and avoid contact with people who have the flu.

If you protect yourself from getting sick, then you prevent spreading to those around you who may not be as healthy and at higher risk for complications of the disease.

Megan A. Berman is an associate professor of internal medicine at The University of Texas Medical Branch.


(3) comments

Diane Brodie

Reasons NOT to get the flu shot. Each year experts guess which strain to put in the vaccines and are continually wrong. That means you are open to getting the other strains, and you can "shed the virus" you got the shot for, infecting others. Then let's mention the ingredient Thimerosal which contains mercury, a neurotoxin. Read the label. It's in this year's vaccine. And they recommend pregnant women get the vaccine so the fetus is exposed to it too. My brother and his kids and grandkids who insist on every and all vaccines recommended, got the flu the year I wasn't invited to visit. I didn't. I'll take my chances.

Mark Aaron

Diane: "Reasons NOT to get the flu shot. "

Bullsh!t. You are telling dangerous lies and you should be ashamed of yourself.

Diane Brodie

There is a massive amount of proof out there if you care to look. I would be ashamed if I didn't say anything and more people are hurt. At least give people an informed choice. Shutting down conversation does no one any good.

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