It is that time of year again to consider the protection offered by a flu shot. One University of Alabama at Birmingham internal medicine expert says with a vaccine already available, it is best to get immunized against influenza now.
“We’ve already heard of sporadic cases, but there is very little flu in the Southeast right now, making it the perfect time to get your flu shot,” said Stephen Russell, M.D., UAB associate professor in the Division of General Internal Medicine.
“Contrary to some beliefs, getting the flu shot in September is a good thing and will offer protection for the entirety of the flu season,” said Russell, who is also a lead physician at UAB Medicine Moody Clinic.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months and older. People 65 years and older, pregnant women, caregivers and people with certain medical conditions including asthma, diabetes and chronic lung disease are especially encouraged to get vaccinated.
“Most people will only need one shot each year, but the flu shot a patient had last year will not protect them for this coming flu season,” Russell said.
Russell said this year’s vaccine is different; for the first time, vaccine manufacturers are offering a quadrivalent flu vaccine that protects against four different types of flu virus. In years past, there was only protection against three.
Russell said the shot will not cause sickness, as it contains a killed virus, so that fear should not cause people to skip a flu shot. For those who may avoid a shot because of the needle, Russell encourages the use of an alternative.
“There is also a nasal spray that is effective; it is a live virus vaccine but is changed to not cause infection,” Russell said. “The mist is a great option for those who are nervous about shots, but is not for patients with asthma or respiratory issues, and it is not right for those with diabetes.”
The flu is a serious disease that the CDC says can cause hospitalization or even death. Russell encourages anyone eligible to receive the flu shot or flu mist, do so.
“Many people will say that they do not need the vaccine, as they have never had the flu before, but that is like saying you don't need to wear your seatbelt because you have never had a wreck,” Russell said. “You may have been fine in the past, but that should not offer security or protection for future exposures to the flu.”