Flu season is upon us, and one of the best ways to protect yourself from serious illness is by getting the flu shot. But if you or a loved one ever experienced a flu shot reaction, you may ask yourself, “can you get sick from the flu shot?”
While some people may feel a bit under the weather after the flu vaccine, you can’t actually get a cold or the flu from the flu shot. However, some people may experience reactions.
The reactions that can occur from the vaccine are generally milder than actual flu symptoms and last only one to two days.
This article covers the benefits of getting the flu shot, discusses potential reactions to the flu shot and clears up any common myths or misconceptions.
Flu Shot Reaction in Adults
Flu shot side effects are possible but are generally mild. The most common side effects in adults include:
- Fainting (in rare cases)
- Muscle aches
- Swelling/redness around the injection site
Some studies have also found a potential small link between the flu vaccine and Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS). This is a rare disorder where the body’s immune system attacks the nerves of the body, leading to paralysis in some severe cases.
The estimated risk is one to two cases of GBS per one million people vaccinated and is more likely to occur as a result of an infection like the flu rather than the vaccine itself.
Flu Shot Reaction in Children
The reactions to flu shot in children are similar to adults. The main difference is children are more likely to develop a temporary fever as a side effect compared to adults.
- Body aches
- Fainting (in rare cases)
- Low-grade fever
- Soreness, redness or discomfort at the injection site
In the case of a fever, Tylenol can be taken. While side effects are possible, the benefits of flu vaccine protection outweigh the potential risks of flu infection.
Just like in adults, it is not possible for a child to get the flu from the flu vaccine.
Why is the Flu Shot Important?
The flu shot is your best available protection against the flu. Even though the dominant flu strains are constantly changing every year, getting the flu shot still lessens the risk of severe illness from any strain of the flu.
Getting the flu shot not only protects you, but it also protects those around you and those you love. If you are pregnant or have a baby, getting the flu shot can help keep you healthy and reduce the risk of spreading the flu to others.
Because of this, the experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend an annual flu shot for everyone six months of age and older to reduce the risk of illness and prevent the spread to others.
If you are concerned about the potential side effects of the flu shot, speak to a trusted medical doctor for personalized guidance.
Why Does It Feel Like I Have the Flu?
Some people may experience flu symptoms after the flu shot and many mistakes it for the flu. It’s important to remember these symptoms are the body’s normal immune response to the inactivated virus in the vaccine and do not represent an actual flu infection.
If you experience any side effects such as fever, headache, nausea, fatigue or faintness, they are typically much less severe than the actual influenza virus. They usually only last for one to two days and resolve on their own.
To reduce the risk of flu shot side effects, drink plenty of water and take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for prevention.
Allergic Reaction to Flu Shot
Some may experience a true allergic reaction to flu shot ingredients, which is different than the typical side effects mentioned above. In the case of a flu shot allergy, there are a few specific signs to look out for, especially if you or a loved one has never received the flu vaccine before:
- A rapid heartbeat
- Difficulty breathing
- Swelling around the eyes or lips
Any of these signs may indicate an allergic reaction to the flu shot and require immediate medical attention. Those with egg allergies or who are allergic to certain other ingredients in the vaccine are more likely to develop a reaction.
In these cases, ask your doctor about an egg-free or alternative vaccine as a safe option.
Risks of Not Getting the Flu Shot
While there is a small risk of side effects from the flu shot, there are bigger risks associated with not getting it.
The CDC estimates that each year, up to 20 percent of all Americans will contract the influenza virus, and more than 200,000 will be hospitalized due to flu-related complications. Not getting the flu shot poses a bigger risk to overall health.
In particular, not getting the flu shot increases the risk of more severe illness, hospitalizations, and death in rare cases. This is especially true in those with compromised immune systems, such as pregnant women and the elderly.
Despite what the research shows, there are a few common flu shot myths that persist. Many wonder, “can you get flu from the flu shot?” among other myths such as:
- The vaccine causes autism
- The vaccine causes infertility
- The vaccine can overload your immune system
- The vaccine contains toxins
- The vaccine gives you the flu
- The vaccine makes you sick
Fortunately, none of these myths are backed by research. If you have questions or concerns about the flu vaccine or a flu shot reaction, speak to a trusted medical professional who will discuss the facts with you.
Visit GoHealth Urgent Care for Flu Shot
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Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant