You can help prevent
influenza by getting immunized with an influenza
vaccine each year as soon as it's available.
Yearly immunization with
inactivated influenza vaccine (What is a PDF document?) (flu shot) or the
nasal spray flu vaccine (What is a PDF document?) prevents flu infection and its complications in
healthy people ages 2 through 49 years can choose to get the
nasal spray 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 who have 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
diabetes or kidney disease.
- Have a disease
or take a medicine that causes problems with your
- Have a condition (such as a seizure disorder or cerebral palsy) that can cause breathing or swallowing problems.
- 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.2 And the flu vaccine can help protect the babies of women who got the vaccine while they were pregnant.3, 4
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. And a type of flu shot (Fluzone Intradermal) is available that uses a much smaller needle than a regular flu shot. Also, it is injected into the skin instead of into a muscle. This usually causes less discomfort at the time of the shot. People 18 to 64 years old can get this shot. But it may not be available everywhere.
Although antiviral medicines sometimes prevent the flu,
they do not work in the same way as a yearly immunization and should not
replace a flu shot or dose of the nasal spray vaccine.
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
- 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
Almost every community has a program that offers flu vaccines at low cost
during the flu season. You also can get a flu vaccine during a
routine visit to a doctor or pharmacy. Many health clinics have set
hours at the start of the flu season for people to get flu vaccines without needing
to make an appointment.
- Flu Vaccines: Should I Get a Flu Vaccine?
Other ways to reduce your risk for the flu or flu 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
- Getting regular
- Not smoking. Smoking irritates the lining of your nose,
sinuses, and lungs, which may make you susceptible to complications of the
- 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
antiviral medicines (oseltamivir and zanamivir) 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. The influenza medicines are usually given to people who are very sick with the flu or to those who are likely to have complications from the flu. But they may also be used for a person who has been sick with the flu for less than 48 hours. 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.
- Flu: Should I Take Antiviral Medicine?