Influenza or flu is a viral infectious disease that is often accompanied by symptoms, like fever, a sore throat, cough, severe headaches, muscle pain, and general weakness. Influenza is usually caused by the RNA viruses of the family Orthomyxoviridae, which are commonly known as the influenza viruses. Influenza can sometimes lead to pneumonia, which can prove fatal at times.
A flu shot is an annual vaccine that can provide protection against influenza that causes seasonal epidemics throughout the world. Even before the swine flu pandemic of 2009, it has been estimated that about 250,000 to 500,000 people die each year due to seasonal influenza. Therefore, physicians recommend the annual flu vaccine for people who are more likely to get infected, and develop some complications due to this viral infection.
Types of Flu Shots
There are mainly two types of flu vaccines- the regular shot that is administered with the help of a needle, and the nasal spray vaccine. The regular shot contains inactivated or dead virus, and so, it cannot cause flu. On the other hand, a nasal spray vaccine contains live, but altered and less virulent virus. So, it cannot cause a serious infection. The nasal influenza vaccine is however, not recommended for pregnant women, infants, elderly people, and anyone with an underlying medical condition. It can be given only to healthy individuals in the age group of 2 to 49 years.
Flu Shot Dangers
The flu vaccine usually does not cause any serious side effects. Some people can experience a few minor side effects that usually go away on their own within a day or two. As the traditional flu vaccine contains only dead or inactivated viruses, it cannot cause flu. However, one can experience some mild flu shot side effects, like swelling, redness, and soreness at the injection site, a low-grade fever that can last for a few hours to a day, chills, muscle pain, and headaches. These side effects can appear a few hours after the shot was given, and then last for about 2 days.
An allergic reaction to this vaccine is quite rare. But such a reaction can sometimes cause anaphylaxis, which is a life-threatening condition that requires immediate medical attention. An allergic reaction to the vaccine usually develops in individuals who are allergic to eggs. Therefore, the flu vaccine is generally not recommended for such people. This vaccine is also not recommended for those who developed a severe reaction to the vaccine earlier, as well as for individuals who are suffering from fever, or any other illness. Children below the age of 6 months are also not given this vaccine.
Like the traditional flu shot, the nasal flu vaccine can also cause some minor side effects. Though the nasal flu vaccine contains live virus, it does not produce the severe symptoms associated with influenza. This is because, the virus is altered in the laboratory to make it less virulent. Some possible side effects of the nasal flu vaccine (also known as 'flumist') are, a runny nose, headaches, mild fever, nausea, vomiting, and muscle pain. Some people can also get a sore throat and cough after getting the nasal flu vaccine.
So, most of the possible side effects associated with this vaccine are mild in nature, and they resolve on their own within a few days without requiring any kind of medical intervention. Compared to the complications that can arise due to influenza, the risks associated with the flu vaccine are minimal. The flu virus generally spreads from one person to another mainly through coughing and sneezing. So, make sure that you cover your nose and the mouth while sneezing or coughing, and wash your hands with a soap frequently.
Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be treated as a substitute for professional medical advice.