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Your Questions About the Flu Vaccine

Can I Catch the Flu From the Flu Vaccine?

You probably know at least one person who claims he or she came down with the flu days after getting a flu vaccine. Though your friend might have felt sick, the vaccine wasn't to blame for the ailment. "It's a very commonly held myth, but it's just that," Weinberg says. "It's absolutely impossible scientifically and medically to get the flu from the inactivated vaccine shot."

You can't catch the flu from the vaccine, because the version of the virus used in flu shots is dead. In the nasal spray vaccine the virus is severely weakened, so it's not likely to cause more than a few sniffles or sneezes. Chances are, your friend either had a bad cold or another respiratory infection, not the flu.

Most side effects from the influenza vaccination are mild, like soreness at the site of the shot, a low-grade fever, or a little achiness. You're actually far safer getting the vaccine then skipping it. "There's a much higher rate of getting complications if you take your chances with the real disease than if you get immunized," Weinberg says.

Can I Get the Flu Vaccine if I'm Pregnant?

You should get the flu shot if you're pregnant. "It's recommended for two reasons," says Duchin. "One is because pregnant women have a higher rate of severe influenza and hospitalizations than non-pregnant women. And if you give the vaccine to pregnant women, you protect their unborn baby for the first 6 months." Pregnant women should only receive the flu shot.

Does the Flu Vaccine Contain Thimerosal?

You might have heard the buzz about thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative used in certain vaccines. All vaccines that are marketed for use in young children no longer contain thimerosal, but it is still found in some vaccines used in adults, including certain flu vaccines.

Researchers have studied thimerosal extensively, and they haven't found any connection between the preservative and autism or any other serious health risks. Still, if you're worried, you can ask your doctor to use a thimerosal-free vaccine.

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Reviewed on March 11, 2011

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