Q: When does flu season start?
A: It typically begins in October and can last through May, with the season peaking in February. But flu is unpredictable, and seasonal peaks vary by region.
Q: Why should I get vaccinated now instead of this fall?
The CDC advises people to be vaccinated as soon as shots are available, so they’ll be ready when flu season starts. Many providers began receiving vaccines this month, as manufacturers are shipping earlier. Shots given now should protect you through the season, and you won’t have to worry about supply shortages later. It takes your body two weeks following the vaccine to form flu-fighting antibodies. But even if it’s past October, the CDC suggests you still go ahead and get a shot.
Q: I hate needles! Can I take a flu pill instead?
A: Sorry, no. But now there is an intradermal vaccine that uses a pin-prick needle, about 90 percent smaller than the standard model. It injects under the skin rather than deep into the muscle, causing less arm-ache afterward. People ages 18 to 64 can have intradermal vaccines.
Q: What about the new high-dose shot for seniors?
A: The Fluzone High-Dose for people older than 65 first became available in 2010. It has four times the antigen of a standard shot, to boost the immune response, as the body loses the ability to produce antibodies as we age. More side effects have been reported with the high-dose vs. the regular shot. People who have severe egg allergies or who had a serious reaction to a standard flu vaccine should not get the high dose.
Q: What about the nasal spray vaccine?
A: This vaccine is different from the shots in that it contains a live but weakened version of the flu virus. Healthy people ages 2 to 49 can use the spray. People with egg allergies, and serious medical conditions or weakened immune systems — and their caregivers — should not use this vaccine or check with a doctor first.
Q: Does Medicare or my insurance cover vaccines?
A: Flu shots are covered under Medicare Part B and most private insurance plans. There usually are no out-of-pocket costs to consumers, but ask your provider.
Q: What are the risks?
A: Serious complications from flu vaccines are rare. Common mild problems include: soreness or redness where the shot was given, fever, headache, fatigue and cough. Allergic reaction symptoms include: difficulty breathing, fast heart rate, dizziness or hives. People with severe allergies, especially to eggs, should talk to their doctor before getting a shot.
Still have questions? Call the CDC at 800-232-4636, or go to cdc.gov/flu.
©2012 Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.)
Visit the Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) at www.sun-sentinel.com
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