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Influenza Vaccine: The Basics

The most effective way of preventing the flu is with an influenza vaccination. Every fall you should be immunized against strains that have developed since the previous outbreak. If you are vaccinated against one or more strains, you may still come down with flu, but your symptoms are likely to be milder than they would have been had you not had an influenza vaccination. 

Influenza vaccine is available through physicians and public-health facilities and many companies provide flu vaccines on-site for their workers. Because influenza is a serious threat, the CDC recommends vaccination for everyone 50 and older; children age 6 months to 19 years; nursing-home residents and employees; anyone with certain chronic medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and respiratory diseases like asthma and COPD; pregnant women; and people who work in medical facilities.

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The seasonal flu vaccine is available in two forms. One is the injectable vaccine made from an inactivated virus. This form is usually given as a single injection and is approved for people 6 months of age or older. The other form is given as a nasal spray called FluMist. This form of the vaccine is a live and weakened form of the flu and is approved for all healthy people 2-49 years of age who are not pregnant. If you are pregnant you can only receive the injectable form. Both vaccines are given as a single dose, although children who are receiving vaccination for the first time receive two. Some people develop low fever and muscle aches as side effects of the vaccine.

Also available:

  • Intradermal shots use smaller needles that only go into the top layer of the skin instead of the muscle. They're available for those aged 18 to 64.
  • Egg-free vaccines are now available for those aged 18 to 49 who have severe egg allergies.
  • High-dose vaccines are meant for those age 65 and older, when available, and may better protect this group from the flu.

All four of the drugs mentioned at the end of the conventional medicine section can be used to prevent influenza, but only Relenza and Tamiflu can prevent both influenza A and B. These antiviral medications can also help prevent and treat swine flu.

Here are more preventive measures you can take during flu season and to avoid getting swine flu:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer often.
  • Quit smoking. The bad habit damages your respiratory tract. And watch the alcohol, since drinking it, like smoking, can lower your resistance to infection in general.
  • Avoid sleeping in a room with someone who has flu. The virus is easily spread in the air.
  • Keep up your resistance by following a good diet, drinking lots of fluids, and getting plenty of rest. Stay warm and dry so that your body can fight off infection by flu and other viruses.

 

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Varnada Karriem-Norwood, MD on May 23, 2014

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