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A flu shot is a vaccine that is given to you through a needle. The season flu shot can defend you from three or four influenza viruses. Should you take a flu shot and what are the risks and benefits?

The flu doesn't just suck — it can also become life-threatening and even deadly to some people. Flu vaccines are, together with proper hand hygiene, your first line of defense against this fairly common illness. Injected into your arm or sometimes administered as a nasal spray, flu vaccines protect you against the most common strains of influenza each flu season. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises nearly everyone to get a flu vaccine appropriate for their age — these may include live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV), inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV), and recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV). Flu vaccines may be quadrivalent (four components) or trivalent (three components).

The nasal spray flu vaccine may be right for you if:

  • You're not currently pregnant
  • You're aged between two and 49

Should I get vaccinated against the flu this season?

Most probably. The flu vaccine is thought to be safe for nearly anyone, but if you're not sure if the flu vaccine is for you or have questions about it, contact your physician and talk to them about it. 

People who have a higher risk of being exposed to the flu, or are more likely to suffer complications if they do catch a flu, especially benefit from a flu vaccine. You might be at risk if:

  • You have HIV
  • You have cancer
  • You are pregnant while the influenza season is happening
  • You are an elder (50 years and older)
  • You live at a nursing home or some other chronic-care facility
  • You are a caregiver
  • You suffer from heart disease (this doesn't apply to you if it’s hypertension)
  • You suffer from chronic lung disease including asthma
  • You have liver, blood, kidney, metabolic, or neurological disorder (this includes diabetes mellitus)
  • You are a health care personnel
  • Your child is aged between 6 months and 4 years old.
  • You are obese

Which people can’t take a flu shot?

Not all flu vaccines are right for everyone, while some people can't receive flu vaccines at all:

  • Babies younger than six months shouldn't get a flu shot.
  • Neither should people who have experienced an allergic reaction to their earlier flu vaccines or people who are allergic to any ingredient used in the flu vaccine.
  • Those who have a fever (usually over 101 F) or are ill should wait until they're better before getting their flu shot. 

People who have egg allergies can receive a flu shot. However, if you have a serious egg allergy (you had any symptom beyond hives when exposed to eggs) you should be vaccinated in a hospital, and have a physician aware of your allergy on hand nearby in case you have a serious reaction. 

Can I develop a flu even after being vaccinated?

While getting a flu shot decreases your risk of getting the flu quite a bit, it is not impossible. The efficacy of flu vaccines varies from one year to the next, and your risk of catching the flu despite being vaccinated also depends on your age and health. Also remember that the flu shots protects against the most common strains of the flu, but not all of them. You can still catch other strains. 

You may wonder if you should bother with a flu shot at all if you can still get the flu anyway. The answer is that you should — people who catch a flu after being vaccinated are still more likely to have milder symptoms. 

Possible side effects and risks of getting a flu shot

Vaccines, being medicines, do rarely cause severe reactions and in extreme cases even death — something a currently very active anti-vaccine lobby will emphasize and then twist. Remember, however, that flu shots have a much higher chance of benefiting you than harming you, and the vast majority of people who receive a flu shot have no side effects beyond a little discomfort at the injection site.

You should let your physician, pharmacist, or nurse (whoever gives you the flu shot) know if you have previously experienced an allergy or a severe reaction to a flu vaccine or any ingredient used in a flu vaccine. 

The most frequent side effects you could get from influenza shots are muscle aches, headaches, soreness, swelling or tenderness (in the area the shot was given), a mild fever, and redness. If you do get a side effect from a flu vaccine, it's extremely unlikely to be serious or permanent. 

Signs of a severe allergic reaction can appear within a few minutes or a few hours after you got the shot — they include paleness, hives, trouble breathing, weakness, dizziness, a fast heartbeat, hoarseness, and wheezing. You should get in touch with your physician ASAP if you believe you are experiencing a severe reaction to a seasonal influenza vaccine. You should tell your physician exactly what happened, when it happened, and what the date was when you got the flu shot.

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