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Your Flu Questions — Answered!   
Dr. Roizen
Q: Can you get the flu from a flu shot?

A: No. The virus in flu shots is dead, and the form in the nasal spray vaccine has been inactivated, so neither can cause flu. In a small percentage of people, vaccination can set in motion a few generalized immune reactions such as fatigue, muscle aches, runny nose, or a low-grade temperature below 100 degrees F. But don’t mistake these symptoms for the flu. They may make you grumpy for a day or two, but they will not knock you flat for weeks, like the real thing. As long as you don’t have an egg allergy or a history of severe reaction, including high fever, the most memorable side effect is usually a sore arm. So take your best shot!

Q: Are flu shots effective?

A: Yes. In any given year, flu shots prevent flu in approximately two-thirds of the individuals who receive them. Most importantly, it protects you from severe complications, including pneumonia, heart attacks and strokes provoked by flu-mediated inflammation that ruptures plaque, and premature death. Those at highest risk of severe flu complications include children, diabetics, immunosuppressed patients, and the elderly.

Q: Who should get a flu shot?

A: Everyone six months and older should be immunized. There are a few options: This year’s (2013–14) standard vaccine fights two influenza A strains and one B strain, three strains in all (a trivalent vaccine). A quadrivalent (four strains, two A and two B) flu vaccine is also available. There's an egg-free version for those age 18 to 49 with egg allergies, and a high-dose version for people age 65 and older. If you’re looking to decrease the ouch factor, there’s an ultrathin needle version for adults (ages 18-64) receiving the standard vaccine, and a quadrivalent nasal spray version for healthy kids and adults between 2 and 49 years old. This last version also protects against two strains each of A and B.

Q: Will the flu shot lower my chances of having a heart attack?

A: Yes. A major review revealed that annual flu shots slash your risk of repeat heart attacks and strokes by up to 55 percent. Prior studies found that flu shots decrease the risk of heart attack by 45 percent in high-risk individuals, and decrease deaths from all causes by 40 percent!

Q: Are pregnant women and their newborns considered high-risk categories?

A: Yes. A new study confirms that newborns whose moms were smart enough to get immunized are less likely to get the flu in their first 6 months, when they’re most vulnerable to life-threatening cases of flu. So if you’re pregnant, get the flu vaccine for yourself and your baby.

Q: Do healthy kids need a flu shot?

A: Yes. Vaccinating healthy kids is one of the best ways to protect them and their families. Kids are more infectious to begin with, since they accumulate higher concentrations of the flu virus and carry it longer.

Q: How many strains does the flu vaccine protect against?

A: Three. Each year, influenza experts meet to decide on the strains most likely to affect the most people in the coming year. A great many different flu viruses are evaluated, and the flu vaccine is then prepared to prevent the most concerning strains. This system really works: Over the past six years, more than 13 million illnesses and 100,000 hospitalizations have been avoided because folks got their seasonal flu vaccine!

When the giant Philistine soldier Goliath saw the Israelite shepherd David strolling out of an olive grove, sling in hand, preparing to challenge him, the giant probably thought something like "Take your best shot, kid." And down Goliath went. Modern medicine, too, is bringing down a different kind of giant, influenza, one shot at a time. So quit stalling: Visit your doc or pharmacy, roll up your sleeve, and say ouch.

Dr. Roxanne Sukol was a co-author of this article.

ADDED TO  Immunity  2122 days 22 hours 25 min ago
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