Each year during flu season, at least one in every 20 people in the U.S. will come down with influenza or flu. Some years, that number can be as high as one in every five. For most of us, getting the flu means several days of feeling pretty miserable. Headaches, body aches, fever, chills, fatigue, and exhaustion are all part of the disease running its course. But then most people recover on their own.
But there are some people -- primarily young children, older adults, and people with chronic health conditions such as asthma -- who are at higher risk of seasonal flu-related complications. Each year, influenza-related illnesses are responsible for the hospitalization of 200,000 people and the death of 3,000 to 49,000 people.
Did You Know?
Under the Affordable Care Act, many health insurance plans will provide free preventive care services, including checkups, vaccinations and screening tests, to children and teens. Learn more.
The flu is caused by influenza viruses that are highly contagious. Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself against seasonal flu, and the primary way to prevent it is to get an annual vaccination.
This article explains what you need to know about the seasonal flu vaccine.
Can Getting the Seasonal Flu Vaccine Cause the Flu?
There are actually two kinds of vaccines: One is given as a shot (an injection) and one is given as a nasal spray. The shot contains dead influenza viruses -- up to four different strains. The nasal spray is made with live viruses that have been weakened. Neither vaccine causes flu illness (although the nasal spray can result in congestion and runny nose). The strains of influenza virus within the vaccines are chosen each year based on what scientists predict will be the circulating viruses for the flu season. Both types of vaccine cause the body's immune system to create antibodies that will ward off influenza virus if it invades your body.
The nasal spray can be given to healthy, non-pregnant individuals ages 2 to 49. It should not be given to anyone with a chronic condition or weak immune system. That would include an illness that affects the immune system and people being treated with drugs or therapies that suppress the immune system. If you have any question about whether you or your child can use the nasal spray vaccine, talk with your doctor.
The flu shot can be given to children and teens ages 6 months to 19 years, pregnant women, adults ages 50 and older, people with certain chronic medical conditions, people who live in facilities such as nursing homes, and people who live with or take care of others who are at high risk for flu complications. Also available are intradermal shots. These injections, approved for those ages 18 to 64, use smaller needles and only go into the top layer of the skin instead of deeper into the muscle.
For those age 65 and older, a high-dose version of the flu vaccine called Fluzone is recommended when available. It may be more effective at protecting the elderly because their immune systems are more fragile.