There is currently no FDA approved vaccine for the Ebola virus, but you can still protect yourself from other contagious viruses, like influenza. Influenza virus—more commonly known as the flu—is a contagious respiratory illness that can range from mild to severe symptoms, and the most serious cases can lead to hospitalization or death. Roughly 5-20 percent of U.S. residents get the flu each year and over 200,000 people are hospitalized for flu-related complications, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Luckily, vaccines available at your local pharmacies and doctor’s offices will protect you against seasonal flu strains.
You can choose between two different types of vaccines: trivalent and quadrivalent. Trivalent is available as a shot, and protects against 3 strains of the flu: A/H3N2, A/H1N1 and influenza B. Quadrivalent is available as both a shot and nasal spray, and protects against 4 strains: A/H3N2, A/H1N1 and 2 strains of influenza B. The latter may cost more, but contact your insurance provider or doctor to determine how much you may need to pay. If you’re unsure which vaccine is best for you, contact your local health provider for guidance.
The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older, especially anyone at high risk for complications and their household members. Seniors, children and people with chronic health conditions are more likely to get flu complications. The 2013-2014 flu vaccine is already available by shot or nasal spray at numerous pharmacies and doctor’s offices in your area. According to the CDC, pregnant women or people with pre-existing medical conditions should get the flu shot and not the nasal spray.
Flu season occurs in the fall and winter and typically peaks in January or February, but can also occur as late as May. Early immunization is most effective in preventing the flu, but it’s not too late to get the vaccine in December, January or later, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Contrary to popular belief, flu vaccines cannot cause influenza illness because the vaccine viruses used to make it are inactivated or weakened, according to the CDC. If you have a moderate to severe illness, or a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome, speak with your doctor to decide whether the flu vaccine is right for you.