Flu season is fast-approaching. The fall and winter are when the flu is most prevalent, and millions of people fall ill to it every single year.
One of the best ways you can protect your immune system against the flu is to get an annual flu shot. Unfortunately, many people opt against getting vaccinated due to a misunderstanding about the vaccine or simply because they forget.
Before flu season is in full effect, here’s what you should know about the flu shot and why it is so important.
About the flu
The flu, also known as influenza, is a disease caused by viruses. What’s so dangerous about the flu is that it changes over time and can affect people differently. Influenza can lead to hospitalization and even death.
Immunization is one of the most effective ways to protect yourself from the serious effects of the influenza virus each year. It is not guaranteed to prevent you from getting sick entirely, but it does reduce the risk of influenza and can reduce the severity of the illness if you do get sick, keeping you out of the hospital and lowering the risk of flu-related fatalities.
It is recommended that everyone over the age of six months old get a flu shot once every year around flu season for the best protection. Flu shots are extremely important for people who are more susceptible to illnesses, such as young children and the elderly.
What is a flu shot, really?
The flu vaccine works by introducing either inactive flu viruses or a single gene from the flu virus into your body. What this does is stimulate your immune system to produce antibodies that are designed to target and kill the virus. With the antibodies created, they are able to protect you against a particular strain or set of strains of influenza.
It takes around two weeks for your body to create the antibodies necessary to fight off the flu, which is why early vaccination is so important. If you wait until the flu is already being spread in your local community, you may contract it before the flu shot can do its job. However, getting the flu shot late is better than never getting it at all!
There are actually multiple types of flu shots available. Because influenza can come in a variety of strains, researchers determine which strains are most likely to cause illness in a given flu season and create vaccinations for these strains. These are called “seasonal” flu vaccines.
There are also traditional flu vaccines, which incorporate protection from multiple common strains, including an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus and an influenza B virus. These are considered “trivalent” vaccines. “Quadrivalent” vaccines, which offer protection against four strains, are also common.
Different types of vaccines, such as trivalent and quadrivalent vaccines or ones created using either inactive viruses or virus genes, are given to different age groups. Your doctor will be able to determine which form of the flu shot is most appropriate for you and members of your family.
Annual vaccination is important because the flu viruses that make people sick each year are constantly changing. Different forms of the flu may appear one year that you were not vaccinated for last year, so you could still get infected with the influenza virus if you haven’t received an updated vaccine.
Common flu shot misconceptions
One common misconception about flu shots is that they make you sick by essentially “giving you” the flu. This is not true. The flu vaccine does not transmit live, or active, versions of the virus to your body.
The flu shot can produce some side effects, including a mild fever, aches and soreness, which can make people feel like they are infected with the virus. However, these are often short-lived and much more minor than those of the actual flu.
Some people get sick shortly after being vaccinated because they were exposed to the flu virus before the vaccination was administered or before the body created antibodies. Remember, the vaccine does not work immediately—it can take around two weeks for the antibodies to be created and protect you from the virus.
Other people may become infected with similar illnesses or another strain of the flu that was not included in their flu shot.
Another misconception is that flu shots are useless because they are not 100 percent effective. Although it is true that you can still contract the flu after being immunized, studies show that the flu shot helps minimize the severity of the flu, preventing hospitalization or worsening of symptoms for the duration of the illness. The flu shot helps save thousands of lives every year.
Flu vaccines are part of a well-rounded healthcare plan
While flu vaccines are certainly important each year, they are not the only things you should use to protect yourself from illness. Bolstering your immune system and using natural remedies are also key to staving off illness year-round.
Make sure you’re eating a balanced diet filled with vitamins and minerals, sleeping well each night, finding ways to relieve stress and minimizing immune-hampering behaviors. By using these techniques, in addition to regularly visiting the doctor and getting vaccinated, you should be able to minimize illness and enjoy flu season healthily!