Sept. 17, 2013 -- It's fall. The kids are back at school, college football rivalries are in high gear, and -- oh, yeah -- it’s time to get a flu vaccine.
In the past, flu protection basically boiled down to a choice between a shot or a sniff of a nasal spray. But this year there are new options. Some may protect you from additional strains of flu, while others make getting vaccinated a little easier. Read on to find out which may be best for you and your family.
These are the traditional flu shots. They prime the immune system to fight three strains of flu viruses, two "A" strains and one "B" strain. Each year, the FDA updates the recipe to include the kinds of flu they think will be most likely to make people sick during the coming season.
"They do a pretty good job of predicting what's going to be circulating" for the A strains, says Michael Brady, MD. He is an infectious disease specialist at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Ohio. The B strains, though, are harder to forecast. The FDA picks the right B strain about two-thirds of the time, Brady says.
It's too early to tell whether the FDA nailed the flu shot formula this year. When it's a close match, a flu shot can cut by more than half the chances that a person will need medical care for the flu, according to the CDC.
The newest way to ward off the flu, quadrivalent vaccines protect against four strains of the virus instead of three. Because these vaccines include two A and two B strains, they may give more protection, though this hasn't been proven.
"We didn't necessarily know that having four strains was better than having three," Brady says. That's one reason the American Academy of Pediatrics recently said that either option would be fine for kids this year.
All of the FluMist nasal sprays include four strains. Because FluMist is a weakened version of live flu virus, it's not recommended for everyone. Pregnant women, children or teens on an aspirin regimen, people with asthma or breathing problems, or those who have weak immune systems or chronic health conditions should not get FluMist.
There also are quadrivalent injections, which don't contain live virus.
"I would say take advantage of it, if it's available and it doesn't cost you extra out of pocket," says Wilbur Chen, MD. He is a clinical vaccinologist at the University of Maryland's Center for Vaccine Development in Baltimore.
Be aware, though: The new four-strain shots may be hard to find.
Doctors and pharmacists, who had to order vaccines back in February, may have ordered whatever was available at the time, so they may have mostly three-strain, Brady says. "And that's OK."