Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is a contagious respiratory virus that affects thousands of people every year. In general, influenza can make you feel miserable for about a week or so.
But in rare cases, it can be life threatening. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to protect yourself from contracting the flu and its potentially serious consequences. One of the most effective ways to do so is by getting a flu shot.
If you’re not sure if you’ve had the flu shot recently or if you’d like to know more about this helpful prevention method, read on for more information.
What Is the Flu Shot?
The flu shot is a vaccine that’s given at your doctor’s office or a local health clinic. It’s designed to prevent you from contracting the flu by creating antibodies in your system that fight against the flu virus. The flu shot is a form of immunization, which means it can help you prevent getting sick. It’s recommended that you get a flu shot each year.
The flu shot is an injection (usually in your arm or shoulder) that uses a small amount of the flu virus to trigger your immune system to create antibodies that will protect you from the virus if you come into contact with it in the future. Because the flu shot uses only a small amount of the virus, it’s unlikely that you’ll come down with the flu even if you get the shot during flu season.
When to Get a Flu Shot
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone over the age of six months get a flu shot every year between October and early May.
Getting a flu shot between October and December is the best time to receive one since it’s the start of flu season. The flu shot can be given at any point between October and May. You can even get a flu shot while you’re already sick, as long as you follow the doctor’s instructions.
And despite common misconceptions, the flu shot is safe for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and children over six months of age. However, if you have a severe allergy to eggs, you may be allergic to the flu shot’s ingredients. If so, talk to your doctor about the best way to stay protected.
How Does a Flu Shot Work?
The flu shot prepares your immune system to fight the flu virus before it has the chance to infect your body and make you sick. The vaccine contains a small amount of inactivated flu virus (either a dead strain or a lab-engineered strain).
Once injected into the skin, it enters the body’s bloodstream and travels to the spleen, where it’s “activated” and begins the process of training your immune system to recognize and fight the flu.
Specifically, the vaccine triggers your immune system to produce antibodies against the two or three types of flu viruses that are most likely to infect people in your area.
When flu season comes around and your body comes into contact with the real virus, these antibodies bind to the virus and trigger your immune system to fend off the infection and make you feel better again.
Side Effects of a Flu shot
Since the flu shot uses a small amount of the virus to train your immune system, you’re less likely to experience the flu even if you get the shot during flu season.
Getting a flu shot can cause the following side effects:
Mild soreness or redness at the site of the injection: This is common and can last up to two days.
Mild fever: Getting a slight fever is rare, but it could happen if you have a weakened immune system. If you notice a significant rise in temperature after getting the flu shot, though, contact your doctor as soon as possible.
Muscle aches: This is caused by your immune system releasing chemicals to fight against the virus. These side effects generally go away within a few hours and won’t last longer than a few days.
How to Know If You’re Having the Flu or Just Have a Cold?
Even though they’re both viral diseases, a cold and the flu don’t feel the same and are caused by different viruses. The most common symptom of the flu is a fever, which is not one of the symptoms of a common cold.
If you experience a sudden fever, cough, sore throat, and muscle aches, you’re more likely to have the flu than a cold. A cold, on the other hand, is typically marked by symptoms like a runny nose, congestion, and sneezing without a fever.
How to Find a Flu Vaccine Near You
The best way to find a flu vaccine near you is by using an online tool like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s vaccine finder. Simply enter your address and select your age group, and you’ll be presented with several nearby options.
Once you’ve found a location and have an appointment, make sure you arrive at least half an hour early to allow yourself enough time to check in and receive the flu shot. If you’re visiting a pharmacy, make sure to ask if they have the flu vaccine in stock.
The Bottom Line
The flu shot is the best way to protect yourself from the flu and its potentially serious consequences. It can also prevent you from spreading the flu to others. It’s important to remember that receiving a flu shot is not a guarantee that you won’t get sick, but it can significantly reduce your risk of getting the flu.
If you’re interested in receiving the flu shot, make sure you do so before the end of May, as this is when flu season ends. And remember to stay hydrated throughout the flu season, get plenty of rest, and wash your hands frequently with soap and water to reduce the risk of contracting any types of viruses.