What is flu?
The flu (or common flu) is a viral infection that is spread from person to person in secretions of the nose and lungs, for example when sneezing. Medically, it is referred to as influenza. Flu is a respiratory infection, that is, an infection that develops primarily in the lungs. Respiratory infections caused by other viruses often are called flu, but this is incorrect. Influenza usually causes higher fever, more malaise, and severe body aches than other respiratory infections. Although other viruses may cause these symptoms, they do so less commonly.
Influenza viruses are divided scientifically into three types, designated A, B, and C. Influenza types A and B are responsible for epidemics of respiratory illness that occur almost every winter. Influenza type C usually causes either a very mild respiratory illness or no symptoms at all; it does not cause epidemics and does not have the severe public-health impact of influenza types A and B. Type A viruses are divided into subtypes and are named based on differences in two viral surface proteins called hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N). There are 16 known H subtypes and nine known N subtypes.
The flu is a common illness. Every year in the United States, on average
- 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu,
- more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications,
- about 36,000 people die from the flu or its complications.
What flu viruses does the flu vaccine protect against?
Flu vaccines are developed each year and are designed to protect against the three influenza viruses that are predicted to be the most common during the upcoming season.
The 2012-2013 influenza vaccine was made from the following three viruses:
- an A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus;
- an A/Victoria/361/2011 (H3N2)-like virus;
- a B/Wisconsin/1/2010-like virus (from the B/Yamagata lineage of viruses).
While the H1N1 virus is the same as the that in the 2011-2012 vaccine, the influenza H3N2 and B vaccine viruses are different from those used for the Northern Hemisphere for the 2011-2012 influenza vaccine.
How does the flu vaccine work to prevent the flu?
The flu vaccines stimulate the production of antibodies in the body that fight the flu virus. When the virus enters a person who has been vaccinated, the antibodies attack and kill the virus and prevent infection. Antibodies are produced against the specific strains of the virus contained in the yearly vaccine.
Flu vaccination does not protect against infection caused by microbes other than the influenza virus.
When should one receive the flu vaccine?
It is recommended to get the flu vaccine as soon as the vaccine is available in the community, even as early as August. Flu season can begin in October and last as late as May.
Who should receive the flu vaccine?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that every individual over 6 months of age receive the seasonal flu vaccine. While vaccination is recommended for everyone, it is particularly important for some groups. Vaccination is especially important for people who are at high risk of developing serious complications if they get the flu, such as those with asthma, diabetes, and chronic lung disease as well as pregnant women and those over 65 years of age. It is also important for people to get vaccinated who are caregivers for or those who live with people in these risk groups.
Flu Shot Side Effects
Mild side effects usually begin soon after you get the vaccine and last one to two days. Possible mild side effects of the flu shot include:
- Soreness, redness, and swelling at the injection site
- Fainting, mainly in adolescents
Possible mild side effects of the nasal spray include:
- Runny nose
- Muscle aches
Serious side effects usually begin within a few minutes to a few hours after receiving the shot. Possible serious side effects of vaccination include:
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling around the eyes or lips
- Racing heart
- Behavior changes
- High fever
If you experience any of these reactions, seek medical attention immediately.
SOURCE: FLU.gov. Vaccination & Vaccine Safety.
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