For the media

The flu shot works (and other things to know about it)

By The Health News Team | October 3, 2023
Woman getting vaccinated

The media calls it a “tripledemic,” and hospitals across the county call it a potential reality. The combination of a surge in cases of flu, RSV and COVID-19 could affect nearly every population in the coming months.

When it comes to flu alone, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports seasonal activity is likely to increase. Additionally, Australia reported cases spiked earlier than usual and the U.S. flu season usually follows similar trends as those seen during the fall and winter in that region.

While flu causes many people to have fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, fatigue, and what the CDC sums up as “miserable days spent in bed” that can usually be treated at home, it is estimated 140,000 to 710,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized due to severe flu illness each year. What’s more, 12,000 to 52,000 deaths in the U.S. are caused by flu annually.

However, there are ways to prevent the spread of flu and decrease illness severity. And vaccination is the first line of attack. According to the CDC, most seasons, the flu shot is 40% to 60% effective at preventing flu illness from the most common circulating influenza (flu) strains.

Here’s what else you should know about the flu shot:

Everyone age 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine (with rare exceptions).

This is especially true for people at high risk of serious complications from flu, such as adults 65 and over, those with chronic health conditions, very young children and pregnant women. Talk with your doctor if you have concerns about receiving an annual flu shot, had a severe allergic reaction to the flu vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine, have ever had Guillain-Barré syndrome, or are not feeling well prior to receiving the flu shot.

You cannot get flu from any form of the flu vaccine.

The flu vaccine exposes you to an inactivated or weakened form of the flu virus. This exposure can stimulate an immune response that provides protection from the flu without causing illness. However, while the vaccine will not cause flu, it can cause mild flu-like symptoms for a few days or less.

The flu shot helps protect you from severe illness, hospitalization and death.

The vaccine can help protect you from flu illness or reduce the severity of illness in those who are vaccinated but still get infected. The CDC reports the flu vaccine reduced children’s risk of flu-related ICU admission by up to 75%, reduced adults’ risk of being admitted to an ICU by 82%, and can be lifesaving for many.

The annual flu shot is targeted at flu strains expected to be in circulation.

Experts look to the Southern Hemisphere as a predictor of what to expect in the Northern Hemisphere, including the United States. The same viruses that cause illness there will likely cause cases of flu here. Therefore, every year, the flu vaccine is reformulated and standardized by the U.S. Public Health Service to include influenza strains that are predicted to circulate through the community during the upcoming season.

It’s not too late to get your flu shot.

While data show September and October are the “sweet spot” for getting vaccinated, it’s very important to get the flu vaccine, even if it’s later in the season. The sooner you get vaccinated, the more likely you are to be protected when flu is spreading. However, according to the CDC, flu activity can continue through May, so vaccination after October is still beneficial.

Additional tactics can help you avoid flu and other respiratory illness.

Along with getting vaccinated, avoiding large indoor crowds and people who are sick; washing your hands often; avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth; and wearing a face mask in crowded indoor locations with poor ventilation can help you avoid getting sick. Other good health habits can also help: Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat nutritious food.

Talk with your doctor or local pharmacist about the flu shot and its effectiveness. The best way to prevent flu, the CDC advises, is by getting a flu vaccine each year.

Learn more about where to get flu shots in San Diego.

Related topics

You might also like:

Get the best of Sharp Health News in your inbox

Our weekly email brings you the latest health tips, recipes and stories.