It’s October and that means it’s the beginning of flu season, which typically ranges from October through May. While modern access to well-rounded nutrition, hygiene, and sanitation has decreased the threat of influenza over the past century, there are still an estimated 100 children who die from flu-related complications each year, and adults over 65 are the most at risk for requiring flu-related hospitalization.

The flu shot works to strengthen your immune system. Not only does it help to diminish your own susceptibility to the flu and its side effects, a flu shot can also keep you from spreading the flu to others.

What is a flu shot?

Traditionally, the flu shot was created to protect against three common flu viruses: influenza A (H1N1) virus; influenza A (H3N2) virus; and influenza B. These are called “trivalent” vaccinations. There are also “quadrivalent” vaccinations, made to protect against four flus; the ones listed above as well as an additional B virus.

There are different combinations of ingredients used to make shot serums – some are stronger than others (often recommended for people 65 years and older), as well as egg-free varieties. Pay attention to ingredients and ask your doctor which version is right for you.

Note: In previous years, nasal spray flu vaccines were available. These are not recommended for the 2016-2017 flu season because their effectiveness has come into question. In most cases, flu shots are given in the upper arm. There is also a jet injector used for one of the trivalent vaccines that is used in persons aged 18-64.

Once the flu shot is administered, it takes about two weeks for your body to make the antibodies that provide protection against the various flus and their symptoms. Flu vaccinations can:

  • Reduce your chances of getting the flu.
  • Reduce the severity of flu symptoms if you do get sick.
  • Reduce the amount of hospitalizations related to the flu.
  • Protect pregnant women and unborn children from catching the flu, extending protection to the baby even after it’s born.
  • Keep you from infecting others who may be more vulnerable to the flu.

Your doctor or a pharmacist will let you know which type of shot makes the most sense for you and your immune system, based on your age and current medical history.

Who should get the flu shot?

Above and beyond the question, “what is a flu shot,” is the question of who should get it.

Originally, it was recommended that only the very young and those over age 65 get a flu shot. Now, the CDC recommends that anyone six-months-old and older should get the shot unless they have a life threatening allergy to the ingredients used to make the flu shot.

Always talk to your doctor before getting the flu shot to make sure it’s the right choice for you.

Can I still get sick after getting the flu vaccine?

Yes, you can. This is because the flu vaccine is formulated each year based on medical experts’ best estimate of which flu strains will be the most prolific that year. Depending on your health, and which flus circulate, vaccinated individuals can still wind up getting sick with the flu.

However, the CDC collects data for analysis to determine its effectiveness. Currently, their data indicates that flu incidences are decreased in the general population by as much as 50 percent or 60 percent each year as the result of vaccinations.

Also, your health and well-being largely depend on your day-to-day lifestyle choices. A healthy diet, regular exercise, and a proactive approach to health will boost the effectiveness of the flu vaccine.