It’s flu season again. Now is the time to protect your family from influenza (flu) and pneumonia by getting flu and pneumonia immunizations (shots). These shots cause your body’s immune system to produce antibodies, exactly like it would if you were exposed to the disease. It takes about two weeks for your body to develop immunity to flu viruses.

Flu is a very contagious disease that spreads easily by coughing, sneezing and close contact with other people. It is most common between the months of October and March, but can extend into May.

Anyone can get the flu. It strikes suddenly with symptoms such as fever and chills, sore throat and cough, muscle aches, feeling tired, headache, runny or stuffy nose. Children may also have diarrhea or even seizures in severe cases. If you have heart or lung problems, flu can make them worse.

The complications of flu cause the death of thousands of Americans each year. Many more are hospitalized. Flu can cause pneumonia, blood infections (sepsis or bacteremia), and infections in the head, ears, throat or lungs.

Who needs a flu shot?

The many viruses that can cause flu change every year. That’s why your family needs a new flu shot at the beginning of each year’s flu season. It’s best to get the shot before the end of October. The shot keeps you from getting flu, or if you do get it, it’s less severe. A shot will also keep you from spreading flu to your family and other people.

An annual flu shot is recommended for everyone over the age of 6 months. Only the injectable vaccines are recommended this year. The nasal spray was found to be much less effective. Flu shots are safe for pregnant women and people with chronic health conditions.

Children ages 6 months to 8 years, who are receiving a flu shot for the first time, need a second dose at least four weeks after the first dose. If they received two or more total doses at any time before July 1, 2016, they only need one dose this year.

If you’re seriously ill, don’t get the shot until your health care provider approves it. Be sure he or she knows about any bad reaction you’ve had to the shot or if you’ve had Guillain-Barre Syndrome or have an egg allergy. Now there are two egg-free vaccines: Flublok (approved for ages 18 and older) and Flucelvax (approved for ages 4 years and older).

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a serious infection that is spread by close contact with others and by direct contact with an infected person’s spit or mucus. It kills more people than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined. The National Foundation of Infectious Diseases says about 1 million Americans a year get pneumonia; 7-10 percent die from it. Many more people must be hospitalized when they develop complications from pneumonia. Pneumonia complications can cause lifetime disability from heart disease, hearing loss, blindness, seizures or paralysis.

There are many types of pneumonia and they can cause illnesses that produce symptoms ranging from mild to severe, including death. Pneumonia can cause ear infections, pneumonia in the lungs, blood poisoning (bacteremia and sepsis) and meningitis. Meningitis can cause deafness and brain damage and kills about 10 percent of children who get it. Bacteremia and meningitis kill about one out of every six older adults who get either disease.

If the pneumonia bacteria only affect the head and throat, it’s usually mild. When it spreads to other parts of the body, it can be severe or even life-threatening, especially for older adults, people with chronic health conditions, including those whose immune system has been weakened by disease or medicines.

Who needs a pneumonia shot?

It’s increasingly important for everyone to get a pneumonia shot because the drugs used to treat pneumonia are not as effective as they used to be. Some types of pneumonia are drug-resistant.

There are two types of pneumonia shots (PCV13 and PPSV23) and each protects against different types of pneumonia. Be sure to tell your health care provider if you’ve ever had a reaction to a pneumonia shot or you are seriously ill on the day the shot is scheduled. A pneumonia shot can be given any time of year.

  • By age 2, children should have four doses of the pneumonia shot, given at four separate visits.
  • Adults aged 19 to 64 should have one pneumonia shot if they are smokers; have certain health conditions such as cancer, heart or lung disease, diabetes or asthma; are alcoholics; have a weakened immune system; or live in a nursing home or long-term care facility.
  • Adults aged 65 and older should receive the PCV13 pneumonia shot first and the PPSV23 shot at least a year later. The two shots should not be given at the same time.
  • Some people may need a booster shot after five years – check with your doctor if you had your first shot before age 65, or have a weakened immune system, chronic disease, cancer, HIV/AIDS or sickle cell disease.

Where to get shots

Flu shots are widely available at your doctor’s office, clinics, pharmacies, some work places and local Arkansas Department of Health offices.

Medicaid and most private health insurance will pay for the flu shot. It’s free for Medicare beneficiaries if given by a provider who accepts Medicare.

Pneumonia shots will be paid for by Medicaid and most private health insurance plans. Medicare pays for both pneumonia shots under Part B, if they’re given at least one year apart and if you’ve never had one.

It’s okay to have a flu shot and one pneumonia shot on the same day.

 

Other ways to protect your family from illness:

  • Stay away from sick people
  • Wash your hands to reduce the spread of germs
  • Keep sick people home from work or school
  • Ask your health care provider if you need a prescription for antiviral drugs (Tamiflu, Relenza or Rapivab) to treat flu. These meds are different from antibiotics and can reduce the severity of flu and help prevent serious complications.