Flu shot FAQ

Wellness | November 2, 2018
boy getting flu shot
Everything you need to know before rolling up your sleeve!

Every year, the influenza virus, also known as the flu, affects millions of people with hundreds of thousands hospitalized. According to the CDC, the 2017-2018 flu season was the deadliest in decades, with approximately 80,000 flu-related deaths in the United States alone. More than 80 percent of those individuals were unvaccinated. The influenza virus is especially harmful to children, people with chronic illnesses, older adults and pregnant women. While the flu vaccine is not perfect, it does save lives. Here are some answers to common flu-related questions that I get asked every flu season:

Q: How can I prevent getting the flu?
A: Besides getting the flu shot, there are everyday preventative measures that I recommend for everyone to follow during flu season. Make sure you wash your hands regularly with soap and water or an alcohol-based solution. Avoid contact with sick people and if you are sick, limit contact with others as much as possible. If you do get the flu, you should stay home for 24 hours after your fever is gone. You may return to work after being fever-free for 24 hours (without using a fever-reducing medicine).

Q: Will I get the flu from the flu shot?
A: No, you cannot get the flu from the flu shot. The vaccine is made by either using an inactivated (killed) virus or using a single gene from the virus (not the whole virus) to create an immune response (antibodies) against the virus without giving you an infection.

Q: How does the flu vaccine work?
A: The flu vaccine causes your immune system to make antibodies against the flu virus, which takes about 2 weeks. Antibodies protect your body from the virus by creating an immune response from the virus in the vaccine. If you are exposed to the flu virus after getting vaccinated, your body will recognize the virus immediately and create more antibodies to fight it.

Q: Why do I always feel sick after getting the flu shot?
A: It is common to have a reaction to the vaccine. The most common side effects are localized reactions such as soreness, swelling or redness where the shot was given or a generalized reaction such as fatigue, low grade fever or headache. These symptoms last no more than 1-2 days after getting the vaccine.

Q: Even though I got the flu shot last year, why did I still get sick with flu symptoms?
A: There are several possible reasons why you may have experienced flu symptoms. It is possible that you were infected with a strain of the virus that was not included in the vaccine as there are many different flu viruses that can cause an illness. You may have been infected with a totally different virus, such as rhinovirus, adenovirus, or coronavirus, that could cause similar flu-like symptoms. Another possibility is that you could have been exposed to the influenza virus either before getting vaccinated or in the two weeks following the vaccination, in which case your body would not have had enough time to develop immune protection.

Q: Why should I get the flu shot this year?
A: The flu vaccine protects millions of people from illnesses, doctor visits and hospitalizations each year. Getting vaccinated protects the people around you who may not have the immune system to fight the virus, including babies, young children, elderly people and people fighting cancer and other chronic illnesses.

Talk to your healthcare provider if you need help or have questions about the flu vaccine.

*Sneha Patel, DO, is a provider at PeaceHealth Medical Group Family Medicine in Bellingham. She is passionate about educating her patients on healthy habits, including diet, exercise and mental well-being, in order to live their best lives.