The Seasonal Flu Vaccine

It’s still time to think about getting a flu shot, which is generally offered between September and mid-November - typically before the late-fall to early-winter start of flu season. It takes up to two weeks to build immunity after a flu shot.

  • A seasonal vaccine is distributed routinely every year.
  • While there are many different flu viruses, the flu vaccine protects against the three viruses that research suggests will be most common.
    • The 2012-2013 flu vaccine will protect against A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)-like virus, A/Victoria/361/2011 (H3N2)-like virus, and the B/Wisconsin/1/2010-like virus. While the H1N1 virus is the same as what was included in the 2011-2012 influenza vaccines, this year’s influenza H3N2 and B viruses differ from those in the 2011-2012 influenza vaccines.
  • Everyone 6 months of age and older should get vaccinated against the flu as soon as the seasonal vaccine is available.
  • People at high risk of serious flu complications include young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease and people 65 years and older.
  • Vaccination of high risk persons is especially important to decrease their risk of severe flu illness.
  • Vaccination also is important for health care workers, and other people who live with or care for high risk people to keep from spreading flu to high risk people.
  • Children younger than 6 months are at high risk of serious flu illness, but are too young to be vaccinated. People who care for them should be vaccinated instead.

Cold or Flu?

It’s important to know the difference between flu and cold symptoms. A cold is a milder respiratory illness than the flu. While cold symptoms can make you feel bad for a few days, flu symptoms can make you feel quite ill for a few days to weeks. The flu can also result in serious health problems such as pneumonia and hospitalizations. With the flu, you may feel very weak and fatigued for up to two or three weeks. You’ll have muscle aches and periods of chills and sweats as fever comes and goes. You may also have a stuffy or runny nose, headache, and sore throat.

Compare Flu and Cold Symptoms 

The following chart (from WebMD) can help you compare flu symptoms with cold symptoms – similarities and differences. Then, if you get flu symptoms and they persist, you might call your physician and ask about an antiviral drug.

It is important to note that both the cold and flu are viruses. Antibiotics are effective against bacteria, not viruses.

Symptoms Cold Flu
Fever Rare Characteristic, high (100-102 degrees F); lasts three to four days
Headache Rare Prominent
General Aches, Pains Slight Usual; often severe
Fatigue, Weakness Quite mild Can last up to two to three weeks
Extreme Exhaustion Never Early and prominent
Stuffy Nose Common Sometimes
Sneezing Usual Sometimes
Sore Throat Common Sometimes
Chest Discomfort, Cough Mild to moderate; hacking cough Common; can become severe
Complications Sinus congestion or earache Bronchitis, pneumonia; can be life-threatening
Prevention Good hygiene Annual flu shot or FluMist
Treatment Only temporary relief of symptoms Antiviral drugs (Tamiflu or or Relenza) within 24-48 hours of onset