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Why you need a flu shot

Updated September 06, 2016 / Published October 01, 2013

It takes two weeks for the body to develop an immune response to the flu vaccine. The sooner you get a flu shot, the more protected you will be.

The sooner you get vaccinated against the flu, the better

September marks the start of flu season preparedness; vaccination is recommended from now to mid-March. About 36,000 Americans die annually from the flu, which is why doctors like Monica Barnes-Durity, MD, a family medicine doctor with Duke Primary Care Morrisville, are urging people to get the flu shot.  

“A lot of people haven’t gotten the vaccine yet because they think the flu season hasn’t started, or they think the vaccine will give them the flu but that’s just not true.”

Because the vaccine takes up to two weeks for the body to develop an immune response, the sooner you get the vaccine, the more protected you will be. “People say, ‘Last time I got the flu vaccine, I got the flu,” said Barnes-Durity. “In actuality, you didn’t give your body time to arm itself. You can get the flu shot on Saturday, be in contact with someone who has the flu on Sunday, and you will get the flu or a flu-like illness.”

It’s also important to know that the vaccine is not 100 percent effective. Rather, it should keep the most severe flu symptoms at bay. “If you get any symptoms at all it will be mild but you should not get a full-blown case of the flu,” Barnes-Durity said.

New flu vaccination needed each year

Experts prepare a new flu vaccine each year based on their scientific predictions of the virus strains that will strike. This year’s vaccine closely mimics the strains that have already been identified in many states across the country. Also new this year, the nasal flu vaccine is not recommended. Getting the flu vaccine is easy. Doctor’s offices, pharmacies, clinics and many workplaces may offer the vaccine at minimal or no cost. 

People with certain chronic diseases like severe asthma or an immune disorder should talk to their doctor first.

In the past, people with  life-threatening egg allergies were told not to get the vaccine. However, there is now an egg-free flu vaccine specifically for people with egg allergies.

Flu can lead to life-threatening infections

If you haven’t gotten the flu vaccine and you do come down with flu-like symptoms, including fever, weakness, respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms, contact your provider immediately. A rapid test can confirm if you have the flu and anti-viral medication can shorten the duration of the illness. Getting treatment fast is important because the flu can lead to life-threatening infections including pneumonia.

Without the vaccine, be prepared to be very sick for several days. Even with anti-viral treatment, the flu can put you out of commission for one week or longer, says Barnes-Durity. If you resume your normal activities much before that, you will not be able to perform at your best and spread your illness to your co-workers.

That’s why your best course of action is to get your flu shot now.

"Getting the flu vaccine should reduce your chance of getting the flu," Barnes-Durity said. "No vaccine is a sure thing, but being vaccinated reduces your risk of bigger problems ranging from lost at work and hospitalization to lost life."

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