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Flu Vaccines for Adults 

The flu (influenza) is caused by a virus that is easily spread. A flu vaccine protects you and others from the flu. It’s best to get a flu shot each fall, as soon as the vaccine is available in your area. You can get it at your healthcare provider’s office or a health clinic. Drugstores, senior centers, and workplaces often offer flu shots, too. If you want to know if your provider has the flu vaccine available, or if you have other questions, ask your healthcare provider.

Health care provider giving woman injection in upper arm.

Flu facts

  • The flu shot will not give you the flu.

  • The flu can be dangerous—even life-threatening. Every year, about 36,000 people die from complications from the flu.

  • The flu is caused by a virus. It can’t be treated with antibiotics.

  • Influenza is not the same as “stomach flu,” the 24-hour bug that causes vomiting and diarrhea. This is most likely because of a GI (gastrointestinal) infection—not the flu.

  • You need to get a flu shot each year.

Flu symptoms

Flu symptoms tend to come on quickly. Fever, headache, fatigue, cough, sore throat, runny nose, and muscle aches are symptoms of the flu. Upset stomach and vomiting are not common for adults. Some symptoms such as fatigue and cough may last a few weeks.

How a flu shot protects you

There are many types (strains) of the flu virus. Medical experts predict which strains are most likely to make people sick each year. Flu shots are made from these strains. When you get a flu vaccine, "killed" (inactivated) or very mild flu viruses are injected into your body or sprayed into your nose. These cannot give you the flu. But they do cause your body to make antibodies to fight these flu strains. If you are exposed to the same strains later in the flu season, the antibodies will fight off the germs.

Recommendations for the flu vaccine

The CDC recommends that infants over the age of 6 months and all children and adults should get a flu shot every year.

Some people are at an increased risk of developing serious complications from the flu. It is extremely important that these people get the vaccine. They include those with:

  • Long-term heart and lung conditions

  • Other serious health conditions

    • Endocrine disorders such as diabetes

    • Kidney or liver disorders

    • Weakened immune system from disease or medical treatment. For example, people with HIV or AIDS or those taking long-term steroids or medicines to treat cancer.

    • Blood disorders such as sickle cell disease

It is also very important that others who have an increased risk of being exposed to the flu or are around people with increased risk for complications get the vaccine. They are:

  • Healthcare providers and other staff who provide care in hospitals, nursing homes, home health, and other facilities

  • Household members, including children of people in high-risk groups

Types of flu vaccines

The flu vaccine is available as a shot and as a nasal spray. Your healthcare provider will determine which vaccine is right for you.

Flu shot

The shot is available in a few different forms. There is a high-dose vaccine for those over 65 and a vaccine for those with egg allergies. It is safe for most people. Talk with your provider if you have had:

  • A severe allergic reaction to a previous flu vaccine

  • Guillain-Barré syndrome. This is a severe paralyzing condition.

Nasal spray

The nasal spray is not recommended for the 2016-2017 flu season. The CDC says this is because the nasal spray did not seem to protect against the flu over the last several flu seasons. In the past, it was meant for people ages 2 to 49.

Online Medical Reviewer: Cunningham, Louise, RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Holloway, Beth, RN, M.Ed.
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically-affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 8/27/2014
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