How to keep the flu bug from biting

Anyone who's 50 or older is among the groups of people that health officials urge to get a flu shot.
Anyone who’s 50 or older is among the groups of people that health officials urge to get a flu shot.

Flu season is here. The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department offers the following advice on avoding the bug:

Flu viruses are constantly changing. Each flu season, different flu viruses can spread, and they can affect people differently based on the virus and on their body’s ability to fight infection. Some flu seasons are worse than others, and there is no way to predict how severe the flu season will be. Each year, a new flu vaccine is made from the three viruses that are expected to be present during the season. Two of the three viruses have changed from last season, but the 2009 influenza A/H1N1 virus antigen remains in the 2012-2013 vacccine. (An antigen is the substance that your body recognizes and uses to form protective antibodies.)

Who should get the flu shot?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone over age 6 months get the flu vaccine, with important exceptions. People with severe allegy to egg, people who have had a serious reaction to a flu shot in the past, and people who have had a very rare nervous system condition called Guillian-Barre syndrome should not get the flu vaccine.

If I got a flu shot last year, do I need one again this year?

Yes, you need a flu shot every year.

When should I get vaccinated?

You should get vaccinated as soon as flu vaccine becomes available, but there’s still a health benefit in getting a flu shot at any time during the flu season. In the Pacific Northwest, flu activity is usually at its highest level in January or February, and sometimes later. During the 2011-2012 season, we saw very little flu activity until March and April.

Do children need more than one dose of flu vaccine per year?

In general, children under age 9 need two doses of flu vaccine at least four weeks apart during the first year they receive the vaccination. This season, it is recommended that children under age 9 get two flu vaccine doses if they have not received at least two seasonal flu vaccines since July 2010. This is to ensure that young children receive enough of the 2009 influenza A/H1N1 vaccine to offer the best protection.

Are there side effects to the vaccine?

Yes, but most people usually do not have any side effects. When they do happen, side effects are usually mild. The most common side effects are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot is given. The flu vaccine cannot give you the flu.

How effective is the flu vaccine?

The effectiveness of the flu vaccine depends on the match between the flu vaccine and the types of flu viruses that are circulating that year. If there is a good match, the flu vaccine is 70-90 percent effective in healthy adults. Flu vaccine is generally somewhat less effective in elderly persons and very young children, but vaccination can still prevent serious complications from the flu.

What are the different types of flu vaccine?

Currently, two types of flu vaccine exist:  The flu shot (also call inactivated flu vaccine, it’s made up of killed viruses, can’t give you the flu, and should be given to children 6 months to age 2, people age 50 years and older, pregnant women, and anyone with any health problems or chronic conditions such as diabetes or asthma). And nasal spray vaccine (also called live-attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) trade name FluMist, it’s made of live flu viruses that have been changed and weakened so it can’t give healthy people the flu, is for healthy children and non-pregnant adults between the ages of 2 and 49.