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Flu Shots for People 50 or Older

The flu (influenza) is caused by a virus that is easily spread. It can be a lot more serious than you think, especially for people 50 or older. A flu shot protects you and others from the flu. It’s best to get a flu shot each fall, before flu season starts. You can get it at your doctor’s office or a health clinic. Drugstores, senior centers, and workplaces often offer flu shots, too. If you have questions, ask your healthcare provider. And remember: A flu shot could save your life!

Healthcare provider giving woman injection in upper arm.

Flu Facts

  • The flu shot will not give you the flu.

  • The flu can be dangerous—even life-threatening. Every year, about 36,000 people die of complications from the flu.

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

  • 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 the flu.

  • You need to get a flu shot each year. Last year’s shot will not protect you from this year’s flu.

Flu Symptoms

Flu symptoms tend to come on quickly. Fever, headache, fatigue, cough, sore throat, runny nose, and muscle aches are symptoms of the flu. Upset stomach and vomiting are not common for adults. Some symptoms, such as fatigue and cough, may last a few weeks.

How a Flu Shot Protects You

There are many strains (types) of flu viruses. Medical experts predict which 3 strains are most likely to make people sick each year. Flu shots are made from these strains. When you get a flu shot, inactivated (“killed”) flu viruses are injected into your body. These cannot give you the flu. But they do prompt your 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 fight off the germs.

People 50 or Older Should Get Flu Shots

If you’re 50 or older, you should get a flu shot, especially if you’re in any of these high-risk groups:

  • People with chronic health problems (such as diabetes, chronic lung disease, asthma, heart failure, or kidney failure)

  • People undergoing certain medical treatments

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

  • Caregivers and household contacts of babies younger than 6 months

  • Healthcare workers

Who Can’t Get a Flu Shot?

  • People severely allergic to eggs

  • People who have had bad reactions to flu vaccination (including Guillain-Barré syndrome)

  • A person who has a high fever (the shot can be given after the fever goes away)

Types of Flu Vaccines

Three types of flu shots are available for persons 50 years and older. Talk with your doctor about which shot is right for you.

  • The regular flu shot is injected with a needle into the muscle of your upper arm.

  • The high dose shot is only for persons 65 years and older. This vaccine has four times the amount of killed viruses than the regular flu shot. This helps the body produce more antibodies, which is important for older persons whose immune systems are weaker.

  • The intradermal shot is injected into the skin with a much smaller needle than for the regular flu shot. This vaccine has 40% less the amount of killed viruses than the regular flu shot. But it is just as effective as the regular flu shot in prompting the body to produce antibodies.

What About the Nasal Vaccine?

You may have heard about a flu vaccine that’s sprayed into the nose. This nasal vaccine is only for healthy people ages 5 to 49. So it may be an option for others in your family, but not for you.

Online Medical Reviewer: Carlin, Brian Wintrode, MD, FAACVPR
Last Review Date: 5/10/2012
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