Last year's flu season was listed as one of the worst on record, resulting in an estimated 80,000 deaths and about 900,000 hospitalizations, according to Web MD.
Mukesh Kumar, M.D., a family medicine physician at the NCH Outpatient Care Center at Harper College in Palatine, answers basic questions about the flu vaccine, who should and should not receive it, and how to stay healthier this season.
Who should get the flu shot?
The CDC recommends annual influenza vaccinations for everyone 6 months and older, with a few exceptions. Vaccinations are especially important for people at high risk of influenza complications, including pregnant women, older adults and young children. Children between 6 months and 8 years may need two doses of the flu vaccine, given at least four weeks apart, to be fully protected.
Chronic medical conditions can increase your risk of influenza complications. Examples include:
- Cancer or cancer treatment
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Cystic fibrosis
- Kidney or liver disease
Does everyone receive the same vaccination?
Different flu shots are approved for people of different ages. Everyone should get a vaccine that is appropriate for their age. There are inactivated influenza vaccines approved for people as young as 6 months of age. The recombinant influenza vaccine is for people who are 18 years and older, and the high-dose inactivated vaccines are for people who are 65 years and older.
How long does it take to develop immunity?
People who are vaccinated form antibodies (proteins) which destroy the influenza virus after the person is exposed. It generally takes about two weeks to make these antibodies.
The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season.
Who should not receive a flu vaccine?
- People who have had a severe reaction to a previous flu vaccine
- Children younger than 6 months of age
Check with your doctor before receiving a flu vaccine if have a severe allergy to eggs. Most types of flu vaccines contain a small amount of egg protein. There are flu vaccines that don't contain egg proteins and are Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved for use in people ages 18 and older. Consult your doctor about your options.
How effective is the flu vaccine?
Getting the flu vaccine is the most effective way to reduce the chance of becoming infected with the flu. People who get the influenza vaccine have a lower chance of illness and death from influenza compared with people who are not vaccinated.
The vaccine usually protects 50 to 80 percent of those who are vaccinated from getting the flu.
Some years the flu vaccine is more effective than others. That’s because the people developing the vaccines can’t predict exactly how the flu virus is going to change year to year and it takes months to make a new vaccine.
Even when the vaccine doesn't completely prevent the flu, it may lessen the severity of your illness and the risk of serious complications.
Can I lower my flu risk without getting vaccinated?
While the flu vaccine is your best defense against the flu, there are additional steps you can take to help protect yourself from the flu and other viruses:
- Wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and water.
- Use an alcohol-based sanitizer on your hands if soap and water aren't available.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, whenever possible.
- Avoid crowds when the flu is most prevalent in your area.
- Practice good health habits such as getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly, drinking plenty of fluids, eating a nutritious diet and managing stress.
You can also help to prevent the spread of flu by staying home if you do get sick.
The Outpatient Care Center at Harper College is open seven days a week and welcomes walk-in visits for flu shots for both adults and pediatric patients (accompanied by a parent). It is located in Palatine at 1200 Algonquin Road in Building M. For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 847-618-0121.
NCH offers flu vaccinations at any Medical Group location or one of our four Immediate Care Centers.