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Flu shots

Influenza is a potentially serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. Every flu season is different, and influenza infection can affect people differently, but millions of people get the flu every year, hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized and thousands or tens of thousands of people die from flu-related causes every year. An annual seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to help protect against flu. Vaccination has been shown to have many benefits including reducing the risk of flu illnesses, hospitalizations and even the risk of flu-related death in children.

Who is at risk

Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season. This recommendation has been in place since February 24, 2010 when CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted for “universal” flu vaccination in the United States to expand protection against the flu to more people.

People at higher risk of developing flu complications include:

  • Young children under age 5, and especially those under 2 years
  • Adults older than age 65
  • Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • Pregnant women and women up to two weeks postpartum
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • People who have chronic illnesses, such as asthma, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease and diabetes
  • People who are very obese, with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher

Symptoms

Flu can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Flu is different from a cold. Flu usually comes on suddenly. The time from when a person is exposed and infected with flu to when symptoms begin is about 2 days, but can range from about 1 to 4 days. People who have flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:

  • fever*
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • body aches
  • headache
  • chills
  • fatigue
  • sometimes diarrhea and vomiting

*It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

What you can do

Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by tiny droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes.

Staying away from people who are sick, covering coughs and sneezes, and frequent handwashing all help.

Preventive service at no cost

Everyone 6 months and older should get vaccinated annually.

Why vaccination is important

A flu vaccine is needed every season for two reasons. First, the body’s immune response from vaccination declines over time, so an annual vaccine is needed for optimal protection. Second, because flu viruses are constantly changing, the formulation of the flu vaccine is reviewed each year and updated as needed to keep up with changing flu viruses.

Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.

What the vaccination is

Different flu vaccines are approved for use in different age groups. In addition, some vaccines are not recommended for certain groups. Factors that can determine a person’s suitability for vaccination, or vaccination with a particular vaccine, include a person’s age, health (current and past) and any allergies to flu vaccine or its components.

It may come in the form of a shot or a nasal spray.

Treatment

Antibiotics will not kill cold or flu viruses.

Take Antivirals Drugs, if prescribed by a doctor. Antivirals are medications that reduce the ability of flu viruses to multiply. Antiviral drugs can make illness milder and shorten the time you are sick.

Take everyday precautions to protect others while sick.

  • While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.

Stay home until you are better.

  • If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. Your fever should be gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Treat fever and aches with over-the-counter pain relievers.
  • Sit in a steamy bathroom or use a cold mist humidifier.

Additional tips

It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against influenza virus infection. That’s why it’s better to get vaccinated by the end of October, before the flu season really gets under way.

Influenza vaccine effectiveness (VE) can vary from year to year. The protection provided by a flu vaccine depends on the age and health status of the person getting the vaccine, and the similarity or “match” between the viruses or virus in the vaccine and those in circulation.

The flu shot: The viruses in the flu shot are killed (inactivated), so you cannot get the flu from a flu shot. Some minor side effects that may occur are:

  • Soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
  • Fever (low grade)
  • Aches

The nasal spray: The viruses in the nasal spray vaccine are weakened and do not cause severe symptoms often associated with influenza illness. In children, side effects from the nasal spray may include:

  • Runny nose
  • Wheezing
  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Muscle aches
  • Fever

In adults, side effects from the nasal spray vaccine may include:

  • Runny nose
  • Headache
  • Sore throat
  • Cough

If these problems occur, they begin soon after vaccination and are mild and short-lived. Almost all people who receive influenza vaccine have no serious problems from it. However, on rare occasions, flu vaccination can cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions.

Resources