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  • 7/27/2008

Who Needs a Flu Shot?


Uh-oh. Could you need another shot? Yes, but like all shots, this one can protect you from a pretty awful illness -the flu. In a healthy person, the flu causes a fever, body aches, and other cold-like symptoms. A person who has the flu will sleep a lot and feel sick, but will get better in 1 or 2 weeks.

The problem with the flu, also called influenza, is that it makes some people really sick. They are less able to get well on their own so they may need to go to the hospital. That"s why it"s so important that certain people get a flu shot.

Who Must Get a Shot?

Little kids — between the ages of 6 months and 5 years — need a flu shot. Older kids also need a flu shot if they have:

• heart or lung disorders, including asthma

• chronic diseases such as diabetes, kidney disease, certain kinds of anemia, or immune system problems, including HIV/AIDS

Kids also need the flu shot if they live with someone who could get very sick if they get the flu. This includes pregnant women and kids and grownups that have any of the health problems listed above. Little babies, especially ones who were born prematurely, and people older than 50 also should be protected from the flu. So, if there’s a baby in your family or you live with a grandparent, you may need to take one for the team and get a flu shot! That way, they’ll be protected.

But even if you don’t fall into any of those categories, your doctor still might give you a flu shot. Why? Well, if you can avoid getting the flu, then you won’t have to feel terrible and miss school.

Because the flu vaccine is grown inside eggs, some people should never get the flu shot or any other kind of flu vaccine. Kids who are allergic to eggs or have had allergic reactions to previous flu vaccines should not get one.


One Shot Or Two?

If you’re younger than 9 years old and have never had a flu shot before, you will need two shots a month apart.

Everyone else needs only one shot each year. As with any shot, if you’re scared, talk with your mom or dad about it. It might help to hold a parent’s hand while you’re getting the shot.

Some kids won’t have to worry about a needle at all when they get their flu vaccine. Another type of flu vaccine uses a nasal spray (a mist that"s squirted up your nose) instead of a shot. This type of vaccine contains live flu virus, though, and shouldn’t be given to kids who have health problems — or even kids who live with people who could get very sick from the flu.


When Do You Get a Flu Shot?

If you’re getting a flu vaccine, it"s best to get it in the fall, before "flu season." Flu season starts in November and usually ends in April. December, January, and February are typically the worst months for flu, when the most people have it and you’re most likely to get it.

You may have heard about shortages of the flu shot in the past. This year, authorities expect there will be enough to go around. When shortages occur, health experts sometimes recommend a priority system. That means the people most in danger from the flu get their shots first and other people get theirs later.


What’s in a Flu Shot?

Influenza is a virus. The flu shot helps your body get ready to defend itself against that virus in case it tries to invade your body. The flu shot contains a small amount of dead or killed flu viruses. The flu shot won"t give you the flu, but those dead viruses are enough to get your body"s immune system ready to fight off the real flu when it comes around this winter.

The nasal spray does contain live flu virus, so some people who get this vaccine may get some mild flu-like symptoms. But it’s still worth getting because just like the flu shot, the flu mist vaccine can keep you from getting a really bad case of the flu.


New Year, New Shot

To be protected against the flu, you have to get a flu shot every year. Unlike some other illnesses, like chickenpox, the flu virus keeps changing. The vaccine needs to change to keep up with the type of flu that is expected to cause problems that year.

Each year, doctors and scientists who study the flu try to predict which virus will make people sick during the next flu season. Then they make the vaccine out of a mixture of the three most likely viruses.


After the Shot

The flu shot is very safe, and most people have no problems with it. Occasionally, the spot where you got the shot might feel sore.

After the flu shot, some people might feel achy or have a mild fever, but that"s nothing like the flu, which can make you sick for 1 or 2 weeks.

Whether you get the flu shot or not, you can take an important step toward preventing the flu and other winter illnesses: Wash your hands regularly. When you do, you wash away those nasty germs that want to make you sick!


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