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Influenza (Seasonal Flu) (cont.)

Prevention

You can help prevent influenza by getting immunized with an influenza vaccine each year, as soon as it's available.

Most healthy people ages 2 through 49 years can choose to get the nasal spray formClick here to view a form.(What is a PDF document?) of the vaccine (such as FluMist) instead of the flu shot. The nasal spray vaccine contains components of live viruses, so it should not be given to people with certain long-term (chronic) health conditions, such as heart or lung problems. Close contacts of these people in high-risk categories can be given either type of vaccine, with one rare exception. Immunization with the inactivated virus (flu shot) is preferred over the nasal spray vaccine for close contacts of people with severely impaired immune systems during times when a protected environment is needed. This avoids the risk of transmitting an active flu virus from the nasal spray vaccine. If the nasal spray vaccine is used, contact with anyone in this high-risk group should be avoided for 7 days. For close contacts of people in all other high-risk categories, vaccination with either the flu shot or the nasal spray is considered safe.

You should not get the nasal spray if you:

  • Have heart disease.
  • Have lung disease, including asthma.
  • Have diabetes or kidney disease.
  • Have a disease or take a medicine that causes problems with your immune system.
  • Have a condition (such as a seizure disorder or cerebral palsy) that can cause breathing or swallowing problems.
  • Are pregnant.
  • Are younger than age 20 and you take aspirin or products with aspirin in them.

Even if a flu vaccine does not prevent the flu, it can reduce the severity of flu symptoms and decrease the risk of complications. Studies have found that the flu shot results in fewer days missed from work and fewer visits to a doctor for respiratory infections, and it reduces the number of people who develop complications from the flu, such as pneumonia.3 And the flu vaccine can help protect the babies of women who got the vaccine while they were pregnant.4

In spite of these results, many people choose not to get a flu vaccine. Some do not get the vaccine because of myths they believe about the flu or the vaccines. These include beliefs that the flu is a minor illness or that the vaccine causes the flu. The shot may cause side effects , such as soreness or fever, but they are usually minor and do not last long.

Before getting a flu vaccine, talk to your doctor if:

  • You ever had a serious allergic reaction to eggs or to a previous dose of influenza vaccine.
  • You have had Guillain-Barré syndrome.
  • Your child has ever had a seizure.

Because the nasal spray vaccine is more expensive than a flu shot, it may not be covered by your health insurance plan. Check with your insurance company.

Click here to view a Decision Point.Flu Vaccines: Should I Get a Flu Vaccine?

Other ways to reduce your risk of getting the flu or developing complications

Increase your chance of staying healthy by:

  • Washing your hands often, especially during winter months when the flu is most common.
  • Keeping your hands away from your nose, eyes, and mouth. Viruses are most likely to enter your body through these areas.
  • Eating a healthy and balanced diet.
  • Getting regular exercise.
  • Not smoking. Smoking irritates the lining of your nose, sinuses, and lungs, which may make you susceptible to complications of the flu.
  • Taking probiotics. One study has shown that taking probiotics helps prevent influenza symptoms and reduce antibiotic use in children.5

Using antiviral medicines to prevent the flu

Two antiviral medicines (zanamivir and oseltamivir) can help prevent the flu caused by influenza A and B viruses. These medicines may also reduce the length of the illness if they are given no more than 48 hours after the first symptoms. During a flu outbreak, these medicines may be given at the same time as a flu vaccine and for 2 weeks after while your body produces antibodies to protect you from the virus. These medicines are taken by mouth (pill) or inhaled into the lungs (inhaler).

The antiviral medicines amantadine and rimantadine have been used to prevent flu caused by influenza A. But for the past few years the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised doctors not to use these medicines to treat or prevent the flu.6 These medicines have not worked against most types of the flu virus. Amantadine and rimantadine do not protect against influenza B. Be sure to talk with your doctor about the medicine that is best for you.

Click here to view a Decision Point.Flu: Should I Take Antiviral Medicine?
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