Pumpkin spice, sweaters, falling leaves—and the flu. With the change of season comes an increased risk of getting sick, but aside from washing your hands frequently, eating well, and staying hydrated, there’s one other method that will help you avoid the bug this year: getting your flu shot. In fact, it’s your best bet for staying healthy, says Dr. Roger Lovell, M.D., and infectious disease specialist at Piedmont Athens Regional Medical Center in Georgia.
“The flu vaccine remains the best way to prevent flu and its serious complications,” he says. “Even if the flu vaccine doesn’t prevent getting the actual flu infection, it has been shown to decrease the severity of the flu.”
If getting a shot for the flu seems overkill, consider this: The CDC reports that last year’s flu season saw the highest number of flu-related hospitalizations the agency has ever recorded. Although exact figures aren’t yet available, that means the flu put well over 700,000 people in the hospital last year alone.
The flu is much more than just a case of the sniffles; it can be a potentially dangerous virus. With that in mind, we spoke with Dr. Lovell to gather all the info you need about getting vaccinated this year.
Where can I get a flu shot?
The easiest way to get a shot is to head to your local pharmacy or urgent care clinic. You can use this handy search tool from the CDC to find a flu shot provider near you.
What’s actually in the flu shot?
The flu vaccine is made up of inactivated parts of the flu virus—not the virus itself. Once injected, your body uses these inactivated components to prepare its defenses by making antibodies that fight off real flu viruses.
Could the flu shot give me the flu?
No. Since the vaccine doesn’t contain the actual flu virus, it won’t make you sick.
What are the side effects?
Because the flu vaccine (like all vaccines) stimulates an immune response in your body, there’s potential for some mild side effects, Dr. Lovell explains. These include pain, redness, and swelling around the site of the injection, and also a low-grade fever or muscle and joint aches. Symptoms like that “usually last less than two days,” he says.
How much will it help lower my risk for getting the flu?
While the effectiveness of the vaccine varies from year to year, it will help to stop the spread of the flu. Dr. Lovell, citing CDC data, notes that last year the vaccine prevented more than 5 million flu illnesses, more than 2 million medical visits, and about 85,000 hospitalizations. So do yourself, and everyone around you, a favor—get vaccinated this year.