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Montefiore in the News

March 8, 2012

Flu vaccineFlu season is officially here. Are you prepared? An annual influenza vaccination is your best protection against the flu, yet some people have questions about whether they need the vaccine and if it is safe. Infectious disease expert Belinda Ostrowsky, MD, and her colleagues at Montefiore Medical Center answer questions about the vaccine, other ways you can protect yourself from flu, and what to do if you contract the flu.

Who should get the flu vaccine?
Everyone! For the first time, CDC and other health professionals are recommending that all people six months and older should get an annual influenza vaccination.

While everyone should get a flu vaccine each flu season, it's especially important for some groups because they are at high risk of having serious flu-related complications, including pregnant women (any trimester); children under five years, but especially children under two years; people 65 years of age and older; people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions; people who are morbidly obese; and people who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. In addition, getting a flu vaccine is important for people who live with, care for, or are in frequent contact with people at high risk for developing flu-related complications, including healthcare workers and household contacts and out-of-home caregivers of children less than six months of age. These children are too young to be vaccinated.

Although the recommendations are for most to have the flu shot, some people may have contraindications to taking the shot. If you have allergy to eggs or another component of the vaccine or a severe past reaction to the flu shot you probably should not have the flu vaccine. You should consult your physician if you have specific questions.

What is in the flu vaccine? Does it contain any live flu virus?
The flu shot is an inactivated vaccine, which means it is a vaccine that contains a killed flu virus. This killed virus was originally grown in eggs. After it is killed, the virus is broken up into very tiny bits and placed in the vaccine. There is no live virus in the vaccine.

How do flu vaccines work?
The tiny bits of killed flu virus in the vaccine stimulate your immune system to make antibodies in your body. These antibodies provide protection against infection by live flu viruses. You can not get the flu from the vaccine.

Can/should you get the vaccine when you're pregnant?
Not only can you get flu vaccine, it is recommended that all pregnant women do get flu vaccine due to the risk of possible complications should you contract the actual flu. If you are pregnant and have concerns or questions, consult your obstetrician.

Are there any side effects to the flu vaccines? Can I have an allergic reaction to the flu vaccines?
Some minor side effects that could occur are: soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given, low-grade fever, and aches. If these problems occur, they begin soon after the shot and usually last one to two days. Almost all people who receive the flu vaccine have no serious problems from it. Rarely flu vaccination can cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. If you have allergy to eggs or another component of the vaccine or a severe past reaction to the flu shot you probably should not have the flu vaccine. You should consult your physician if you have specific questions.

What should you eat before you get the vaccine? Should you hydrate pre- and post-vaccine?
There are no specific recommendations for foods to take or avoid before the flu shot. If vaccines make you nervous you may want to eat, and drink before you go to the vaccination so you don't get light headed. Overall, the best advice is to use common sense.

Is the vaccine effective immediately?
No. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against flu virus infection. In the meantime, you are still at risk for getting the flu. That's why it's better to get vaccinated early in the fall, before the height of flu season.

When is flu season?
The typical flu season is October to April. The CDC recommends vaccinations be given between September and the end of November. Vaccination before December is best since this timing ensures that protective antibodies are in place before flu activity is typically at its highest. Protection usually lasts for the entire flu season.

What else should you do, besides vaccination, to protect yourself from getting the flu?
You can take everyday preventative steps, such as staying away from sick people and washing your hands to reduce the spread of germs. If you are sick with the flu, stay home from work or school to prevent spreading influenza to others.