Veteran's Health Library Menu

Health Encyclopedia

Getting a Flu Vaccine

The flu (influenza) is caused by a virus that is easily spread. The flu can be more dangerous than you think. A flu vaccine is your best chance to avoid the flu. The vaccine is given in the form of a shot in the arm, or sometimes as a nasal spray. It’s best to get vaccinated each fall, before flu season starts. This can be done at your health care provider’s office or a health clinic. Drug stores, senior centers, and workplaces often offer flu vaccines, too. If you have questions about getting vaccinated, ask your health care provider.

Flu facts

  • The flu vaccine will not give you the flu.

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

  • The flu can be life-threatening, especially for people in high-risk groups. This includes the very young, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems. Thousands of people die of complications from the flu each year.

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

Woman getting vaccine shot by health care provider.

Symptoms of the flu

Flu tends to come on quickly. Symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, cough, sore throat, runny nose, and muscle aches.  Children may have upset stomach or vomiting, but adults usually don’t. Some symptoms, such as fatigue and cough, can last a few weeks.

How the flu vaccine protects you

There are many strains (types) of flu viruses. Medical experts predict which 3 or 4 strains are most likely to make people sick each year. Flu vaccines are made from these strains. With the vaccine, inactivated (“killed”) flu viruses are injected into your body. With the nasal spray, live and weakened viruses are sprayed into your nose. The nasal spray is only given to healthy people ages 2 to 49. The viruses in both vaccines prompt the body to make antibodies to fight these flu strains. If you’re exposed to the same strains later in the flu season, the antibodies will help your body fight the virus. Your health care provider can tell you which type of flu vaccine is right for you.

Who should get the flu vaccine?

Almost everyone should get vaccinated, especially people in the following higher-risk groups:

  • Adults ages 50 and older

  • Babies and children ages 6 months and older (ask your health care provider if your child should receive the vaccine)

  • Children on long-term aspirin therapy

  • People with chronic health problems, such as diabetes, HIV, chronic lung disease, asthma, heart failure, or any kidney, liver, blood, metabolism or neurologic disorders

  • People receiving certain medical treatments

  • People with a weakened immune system

  • People who are extremely obese

  • People who live in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities

  • Women who are or will be pregnant during flu season

  • Caregivers and household contacts of babies younger than age 6 months

  • People who are American Indian or Alaskan Native

  • Health care workers

Who can’t get a flu vaccine?

  • Babies younger than age 6 months

  • People severely allergic to a component in the vaccine

  • People who have had life-threatening reactions to the flu vaccine

  • A person who has a high fever with severe illness (the vaccine can be given after the fever goes away)

  • People with egg allergies or a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome should talk with their health care provider to see if they can get the flu vaccine

Click here for VA brochures and fact sheets about the flu.

Author: StayWell Custom Communications
Last Annual Review Date: 11/2/2018
Copyright © The StayWell Company, LLC. except where otherwise noted.
Disclaimer - Opens 'Disclaimer' in Dialog Window | Help | About Veterans Health Library