FLU PREVENTION and TREATMENT Flu Vaccine The main way to keep from getting flu is to get a yearly flu vaccine. You can get the vaccine at your doctor's office or a local clinic, and in many communities at workplaces, supermarkets, and drugstores. You must get the vaccine every year because it changes.
Scientists make a different vaccine every year because the strains of flu viruses change from year to year. Nine to 10 months before the flu season begins, they prepare a new vaccine made from inactivated (killed) flu viruses. Because the viruses are killed, they cannot cause infection. The vaccine preparation is based on the strains of the flu viruses that are in circulation at the time. It includes those A and B viruses (see section below on types of flu viruses) expected to circulate the following winter.
Sometimes, an unpredicted new strain may appear after the vaccine has been made and distributed to doctor's offices and clinics. Because of this, even if you do get the flu vaccine, you still may get infected. If you do get infected, however, the disease usually is milder because the vaccine still will give you some protection.
Until recently, you could get the flu vaccine only as an injection (shot). In 2003, however, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a nasal spray flu vaccine called FluMist, which you can get from your health care provider. FDA approved it for use in healthy people aged 5 to 49 years.
Children or teenagers who regularly take aspirin or products containing aspirin also should not take FluMist.
Your immune system takes time to respond to the flu vaccine. Therefore, you should get vaccinated 6 to 8 weeks before flu season begins in November to prevent getting infected or reduce the severity of flu if you do get it. Because the flu season usually lasts until March, however, it's not too late to get it after the season has begun. The vaccine itself cannot cause the flu, but you could become exposed to the virus by someone else and get infected soon after you are vaccinated.
Possible side effects You should be aware that the flu vaccine can cause side effects. The most common side effect in children and adults is soreness at the site of the vaccination. Other side effects, especially in children who previously have not been exposed to the flu virus, include fever, tiredness, and sore muscles. These side effects may begin 6 to 12 hours after vaccination and may last for up to 2 days.
Viruses for producing the vaccine are grown in chicken eggs and then killed with a chemical so that they can no longer cause an infection. The flu vaccine may contain some egg protein, which can cause an allergic reaction. Therefore, if you are allergic to eggs or have ever had a serious allergic reaction to the flu vaccine, CDC recommends that you consult with your health care provider before getting vaccinated.
If you are in any of the following groups or live in a household with someone who is, CDC recommends that you get the flu vaccine.
You are in close contact with children 0 to 23 months of age
CDC recommends that children 6 months to 23 months of age get the flu vaccine. Children and teenagers (2 to 18 years of age) should get the flu vaccine if they are taking long-term aspirin treatment as they may be at risk of developing Reye's syndrome following a flu infection (see section on complications in children). They should also get the flu vaccine if they live in a household with someone in the above groups.
Health care providers and volunteers should get the flu vaccine if they work with people in any of the above groups.
TREATMENT Many people treat their flu infections by simply
Resting in bed
Drinking plenty of fluids
Taking over-the-counter medicine such as aspirin or acetaminophen (Tylenol, for example)
Do not give aspirin to children and adolescents who have the flu.
Do not take antibiotics to treat the flu because they do not work on viruses. Antibiotics only work against some infections caused by bacteria.
FLU COMPLICATIONS You can have flu complications if you get a bacterial infection, which can cause pneumonia in your weakened lungs. Pneumonia also can be caused by the flu virus itself.
Complications usually appear after you start feeling better. After a brief period of improvement, you may suddenly get symptoms.
Chest pain with each breath
Coughing that produces thick, yellow-greenish-colored mucus
Pneumonia can be a very serious and sometimes life-threatening condition. If you have any of these symptoms, you should contact your health care provider immediately to get the appropriate treatment.
MyHealth@Anthem powered by WebMD has more information on cold and flu prevention. Visit www.anthem.com and find the topic in the Condition Centers section.
National Institute on Aging
National Library of Medicine
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
National Immunization Information Program
Health Matters, January 2005, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, http://www.niaid.nih.gov/factsheets/flu.htm