If you and your family have not had the time, or felt a sense of urgency, to get an influenza (flu) vaccine, there’s still time. Getting a flu vaccine now will protect you from this potentially deadly illness for the rest of the season.

Flu is circulating now

Flu is being reported in most states and the inevitable deaths – most victims did not get a flu shot – are being tallied. After getting a flu vaccine, it takes about two weeks for your body to develop full immunity to the flu virus. Full protection is provided for about six months.

Seven vaccine options this year

A flu vaccine is recommended every year for everyone older than six months of age. This flu season you have seven vaccine options:

  • Standard flu shot protects against the three types of flu viruses that are most likely to cause illness this season. This vaccine has been around for almost 50 years and provides good protection.
  • Quadrivalent shots protect against the three flu viruses in the standard flu shot, plus an additional B-type strain. This shot gives you additional protection.
  • If you have an egg allergy, Flucelvax or Flublok Quadrivalent protect against four types of flu. They do not use chicken eggs in the manufacturing process.
  • People over age 65 can get the extra protection they need with Fluzone High-Dose or Fluad. With four times more medicine, it produces a stronger immune system response for people who have weakened immune systems. Medicare Part B will cover all flu shots.
  • If you hate shots so much that you avoid flu shots, then Fluzone Intradermal or Afluria are both great options for you. The vaccine is injected just under the skin using a tiny, 1/16-inch-long micro needle. It is almost impossible to feel and certainly does not hurt. The vaccines described above use a regular needle to inject deeper in the muscle.
  • Afluria and Afluria Quadrivalent are painless, no-needle options. Using a jet injector, a high-pressure, narrow stream of fluid penetrates the skin. Safe for those ages 18 to 64.
  • FluMist Quadrivalent is a nasal-spray vaccine mist that is squirted into each nostril of your nose. The nasal spray, a live flu virus (LAIV), is available for use by nonpregnant individuals, ages 2 to 49. It provides protection against four types of flu.

Why flu vaccine is so important

An annual flu vaccine is vitally important to the health of everyone over the age of six months because it:

  • Prevents deaths – 3,000 to 50,000 deaths from flu happen every year. These can be prevented by getting an annual vaccine.
  • Keeps you from getting sick, feeling horrible (flu is much worse than the common cold!) and missing school or work. Flu is largely preventable if you’ve been vaccinated before exposure to flu virus.
  • Prevents you from infecting your family, friends, classmates and work colleagues. Flu spreads very easily. The viruses can live on just about everything you touch. You can spread the flu to others before you know you have it. A healthy adult can be contagious for a full day before any symptoms develop and contagious about a week after symptoms stop. Children are contagious for several days longer than adults.
  • Prevents hospitalizations –100,000 to 500,000 people every year end up in the hospital with flu complications. If you have heart or lung problems, flu will make them worse. Flu can trigger inflammation of the brain, muscle or heart; organ failure; blood infections (sepsis); pneumonia; bronchitis; sinus, ear and lung infections. Flu can worsen chronic conditions such as asthma or congestive heart failure.
  • Protects those with medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart or lung disease, kidney or liver problems, obesity (a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or more), sickle cell disease or a weakened or compromised immune system. Any of these conditions cause you to have a much higher risk of death from flu.
  • Protects young children who are at high risk. Children have a higher rate of infection than adults. Flu complications in children include viral or bacterial pneumonia, bacteremia, ear infections, breathing complications, seizures, swelling of the brain, long hospitalization or death. If your child gets the flu, he or she will miss school, feel terrible for up to two weeks and could develop life-threatening complications requiring hospitalization. More than 90 percent of children treated for flu in intensive care units last year had not received a flu shot. Why would any parent accept these life and death risks for their child? About half of children who died from flu and its complications were perfectly healthy before getting flu.

Believe the facts, not myths

You cannot get the flu from a vaccine. Flu shots are made from inactive viruses that cannot cause illness. Some people may feel tenderness at the shot site that lasts a day or two. Remember, it takes about two weeks to be fully protected. If you were exposed to flu prior to getting your shot, or during the two weeks that your body was building immunity, you were going to get sick anyway – with or without the shot. You just waited too long.

You need a flu vaccine every year because flu viruses change and become resistant to the vaccines. New vaccines to fight new flu viruses are made almost every year.

Flu is more than just a bad cold. While both the common cold and flu are respiratory illnesses, different viruses cause them. Flu symptoms are much worse, strike suddenly and may include fever/chills, muscle or body aches, headache, sore throat, cough, and extreme tiredness. Children with flu are more likely than adults to have vomiting or diarrhea.

The symptoms of a common cold are much milder and more likely to cause a runny or stuffy nose. A cold rarely causes complications and you will recover in less than a week.

Flu shots are available at no cost to you. Flu vaccines are considered preventive medicine and most types of health insurance pays for them. People on Medicaid, Arkansas Works or ARKids First do not have to pay for a vaccine. The Arkansas Department of Health’s local offices will provide free flu vaccines (go here to find the nearest ADH office). Remember to take your insurance care and photo ID to the ADH office. Most private insurance carriers will not charge for your family’s flu vaccines. People on Medicare do not have to pay for a flu vaccine if the provider giving the vaccine accepts Medicare as payment in full.

Flu shots are safe for pregnant or breastfeeding women. When soon-to-be mothers get a flu shot, it protects the baby from birth to six months of age, before the baby can get his or her own vaccine. Unvaccinated children between six months and eight years of age should have two initial doses of vaccine to build immunity. The two doses must be given at least four weeks apart.

Antibiotics are useless against a viral disease like flu. Antibiotics only help kill bacteria. However, if flu develops into a bacterial infection such as bacterial pneumonia, then your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.

There’s no excuse that’s more important than getting flu protection.