Flu shots are Influenza (flu) vaccines that protect against infection by influenza viruses. Flu is an infection of the nose, throat, and lungs, also called the respiratory system. Getting a flu shot is the best way to prevent the flu and its complications, although it is not 100% effective.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Feeling tired
- Body aches or headaches
- Sore throat
- Runny nose or congestion
- Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children)
Every winter, the influenza virus causes flu epidemics in communities nationwide. It is recommended that anyone six months or older get an annual flu shot. However, the flu shot is essential for people at risk of severe illness from the flu.
Who should get the flu shot?
- Children over six months and younger than two years.
- Pregnant people
- Adults over age 65
- People with certain medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, chronic kidney disease, and heart disease.
Flu shots are taken annually because flu viruses change so quickly; last year’s vaccine may not protect from this year’s viruses. New flu vaccines are released yearly to keep up with rapidly changing flu viruses.
When to take the flu shot?
In South Africa, the best time to get your flu vaccine is before the end of April, before the flu season sets in before the virus spreads, or as soon as the vaccine becomes available. However, if you have missed this period, the vaccine can still be taken during winter.
After getting the flu shot, the immune system makes antibodies to protect from the viruses included in the vaccine. However, antibody levels may decline over time. Hence it is recommended to get the shots annually. Getting flu shots may lower the risk of severe complications and serious illnesses needing hospital stays.
What are the benefits of getting the flu shot?
- Reducing the severity of the flu symptoms (if infected), potentially preventing the symptoms from disrupting daily life.
- Lowering the risk of passing the flu on to high-risk individuals.
- Reducing the risk of death in people with hypertension.
- Preventing doctor’s visits for flu infection.
Like all vaccines, the flu vaccine can cause mild side effects that generally last only a day or two. It’s normal to experience side effects after a vaccine. It shows that the vaccine teaches your body’s immune system how to protect itself from the disease; however, not everyone gets side effects. These potential side effects are much less severe than the flu or complications associated with the flu.
What are the side effects of the flu shot?
- Having a painful, heavy feeling and tenderness in the arm where you had your injection.
- Feeling tired
- Headache, aches, and chills.
- Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.
- Mild flu-like symptoms.
- Fever (temperature 37.8°C or above)
- Feeling generally unwell
Sometimes you can get the flu shot and still come down with it; It takes up to two weeks to build immunity after a flu shot. Some people may have an adverse reaction to the flu shot. After getting a flu shot, look for unusual conditions, such as a high fever, behavior changes, or signs of a severe allergic reaction after vaccination.
What are the signs of a severe allergic reaction to a flu shot?
- Difficulty breathing
- Hoarseness or wheezing
- Swelling around the eyes or lips
- A fast heartbeat or dizziness
Life-threatening allergic reactions to the flu shot are rare. Consult an Intercare doctor if you are presenting with signs of a severe allergic reaction after getting a flu shot. These signs likely happen within a few minutes to a few hours after the vaccine is given.