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You are here : 3-RX.com > Medical Encyclopedia > Special Topics > Flu Vaccine

Flu Vaccine

Alternate Names : Flu Shot, Influenza Immunization, Influenza Vaccine

The flu vaccine involves the injection of inactivated viruses to protect against influenza, commonly known as the flu.

What is the information for this topic?

There are 3 types of influenza viruses: influenza A, B, and C. Each of these has several subtypes. All of these forms of the virus mutate, or change their genes slightly, so they vary from year to year. That is why a new flu vaccine has to be developed every year. The vaccine is made according to what experts think will be the most common flu viruses to infect people during the following winter. The vaccine has a 60% to 70% success rate in preventing the different types of influenza viruses each year.

It takes about 2 weeks for a person to develop immunity after having a flu shot. The flu season usually begins in late October or early November and goes through the early spring. The most cases occur in January and February.

The vaccine is recommended for people considered to be at high risk, including the following:

  • people over age 50
  • children and adults with heart disease and lung disease, including asthma
  • people who live in nursing homes or other institutional settings
  • people who have a chronic disease such as diabetes, asthma, anemia, or kidney disease
  • people who can transmit the flu to others at high risk. This group includes healthcare workers, and employees of facilities that care for people at high risk.
  • women who will be in the second or third trimester of pregnancy during the flu season
  • people whose immune system is weakened because of chemotherapy
  • people with HIV, or AIDS
  • A recent study showed that the flu vaccine may also be effective in preventing second heart attacks in people who have already had a heart attack. In the study, people who received the flu vaccine had a 67% lower incidence of a second heart attack than the people who were not vaccinated that year.

    Elderly individuals who are vaccinated against the flu have a significantly lower incidence of hospitalization for respiratory disease, congestive heart failure, and death from any cause.

    About 25% of adults who receive the flu vaccine report mild soreness at the site of the injection. Young children may develop fever after a flu vaccine. In past years, administration of the flu vaccine was associated with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rapidly progressive weakness that sometimes causes paralysis. However, this is no longer the case.

    There is a risk of an allergic reaction to the vaccine, with possible itching, trouble breathing, or shock. A person who has had this problem in the past should tell the person giving the shot about it. He or she may decide not to administer the vaccine in order to avoid the chance of a repeat reaction.

    Individuals who should not get flu shots include the following:

  • people allergic to eggs
  • people with fever or illness more serious than a cold at the time of the shot
  • individuals who have had allergic reactions to the flu vaccine
  • people who have suffered paralysis from Guillain-Barre syndrome
  • A nasal vaccine for the flu is being tested and may soon be available.

    A person who develops a high fever (a temperature above 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit or 38 degrees centigrade) or an allergic reaction after the shot should call the healthcare provider. The provider can also discuss other questions or concerns about flu shots.

    Author: James Broomfield, MD
    Reviewer: Eileen McLaughlin, RN, BSN
    Date Reviewed: 07/13/01

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