Who Should Have Flu and Pneumonia Shots?
Getting the flu can leave you feeling lousy and unable to attend school or work for as long as 2 weeks, and longer if complications develop. Further, having the flu can put you at higher risk for developing pneumonia and other serious conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), getting the flu shot is “the first and best way to protect yourself and your family.”
The more people who get vaccinated, the more people will be protected from the flu. In 2010, the CDC recommended that everyone over the age of 6 months get a flu shot every year unless they have a severe, life-threatening allergy to the flu vaccine or its ingredients. People who should talk with their provider before getting the flu shot include those:
- With allergies to eggs or other ingredients in the vaccine.
- Who have ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS). Some people with a history of GBS should not get the vaccine.
- Who haven’t been feeling well. Talk with your provider about your symptoms.
The Flu Shot Can NOT Give You the Flu
Flu shots cannot give you the flu. Some people experience mild flu-like symptoms for a day or two after having the shot. Possible side effects of the flu shot are soreness, redness or swelling at the site of the shot; low grade fever; or aches.
It is possible to be exposed to a flu or other virus shortly before receiving the vaccine, in which case, you can develop the flu, but not because of the shot.
New for the 2016-17 Season
Every year, the flu vaccine is updated to better combat the current and most common flu viruses circulating. There are a number of vaccine options depending upon your age and if you have egg allergies. This year, the CDC only recommends injectable flu shots. The nasal spray, flu mist, is not as effective as the flu shot, especially in children.
It takes about 2 weeks for vaccination to become effective so that is why getting the flu shot early in the flu season is best, but anytime from October to May can help.
In the past, people with egg allergies were unable to get a flu shot, but now egg-free shots are available. Adults 65 and older account for the majority of flu-related hospitalizations and deaths. People in this age group can have weaker immune systems than younger people. A new vaccine this season (FLUAD) is made specially for older adults and has an added ingredient that boosts immunity to the flu.
Flu Complications & Pneumonia
Besides older adults, children under 5 (and especially under 2), pregnant women, residents of long-term care facilities, those with chronic medical conditions (asthma, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, etc.), American Indians, and Alaskan natives are at higher risk for developing flu-related complications.
Most people who get the flu recover after a few days or in less than 2 weeks but for some, complications can require hospitalization and sometimes result in death. Sinus and ear infections are moderate complications, while pneumonia (infection in the lungs) is a serious complication that can be caused by flu. With pneumonia, the air sacs in one or both lungs become inflamed and may fill with fluid. The symptoms of pneumonia can range from mild to life-threatening, and can resemble those of a cold or flu, but they last longer. They include cough, fever, sweating and chills, chest pain, shortness of breath, fatigue, confusion, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Other serious complications of flu include myocarditis (inflammation of the heart), encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), and multiple organ failure.
The Flu and Antiviral Medications
Flu symptoms resemble cold symptoms but they come on more suddenly. Flu symptoms include fever (though not everyone with the flu gets a fever), sweating, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, and fatigue. Some people have vomiting and diarrhea but this is more common for children.
If you or a loved one is at high-risk for developing flu-related complications, it may be helpful to see your provider right away if flu symptoms develop. Antiviral medications are available to treat the flu. However, they are most effective if started within 48 hours of the first symptoms.
You are more likely to develop pneumonia if you smoke or have medical conditions, such as lung disease and heart disease. Quitting smoking and carefully managing your medical conditions will reduce the risk.
Another important prevention tool is the pneumonia vaccine. The CDC recommends that adults 65 and older and adults 19 years and older with certain health conditions have the shot. There are two types of vaccines for pneumonia (PCV13 and PCV23). Which one is right for you depends upon your age, risk factors and health conditions. Both vaccines provide protection from pneumonia, meningitis and bacteremia. The pneumonia vaccine is usually a one-time shot though sometimes healthcare providers give a booster shot 5-10 years after the first one. It is safe to get a pneumonia vaccine at the same time as a flu vaccine. In fact, the CDC states that being current with these and other vaccines (pertussis/whooping cough, varicella/chickenpox and measles) can help avoid infections that may lead to pneumonia.
An Ounce of Prevention…
What you can do to stay healthy this flu season:
- Take good care of your health by eating nutritious foods, getting adequate rest, keeping your work and home environment clean, quitting smoking, and managing your medical conditions.
- Avoid close contact with sick people.
- Wash your hands often. Use hand sanitizer when warm water and soap are unavailable.
- Cough and sneeze into your inner elbow. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Disinfect door knobs and other shared surfaces.
- Stay home from school or work if you get sick to prevent exposing others.
If you have questions about flu and pneumonia, the vaccines, your risk factors, or any other aspect of your health, call KnovaSolutions. Our clinicians can help you understand your options and answer your questions. Call 800/355-0885, Monday through Friday, 8 am-5 pm, MT.
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The information contained in this newsletter is for general, educational purposes. It should not be considered a replacement for consultation with your healthcare provider. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your healthcare provider.