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Do I Really Have to Get the Flu Shot?

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Autumn brings many changes: pumpkin spice products, picturesque foliage, and—unfortunately—the flu. (But first, is it the Flu, a Cold, or Allergies That's Taking You Down?)

And if it seems like every place from the pharmacy down the road to the office is advertising their low-cost provision of the annual flu vaccine, that's because they likely are. But no matter how many times someone tells us the influenza shot is a good idea, it's easy to wonder: Do I really need to get this darn thing every year? I never get sick and catching it can't really be that bad, right? Well, let's break it down. (And if you do get sick, we've got 10 Home Remedies for Cold and Flu.)

Do I Really Need the Flu Shot?
While there are certain high-risk groups of people—pregnant women, young infants, or adults over 65—influenza can cause a serious infection even in otherwise healthy people, says Allison Bartlett, M.D., pediatric infectious disease specialist at the University of Chicago Medicine. What's more, even if you don't experience physical symptoms from the flu, but you contract the virus and are contagious, you're jeopardizing the health of everyone you encounter (think of a New York City subway at rush hour—ew!). The takeaway? "The best way to protect you and everyone in your family is to be vaccinated," says Bartlett.

A Look at the Vaccine Itself
Ever wonder how that vaccine comes to be? Well, every year, a team of world experts gets together to select which influenza strains are most likely to emerge and circulate in the winter. The group then spends many months manufacturing the vaccine so that it protects against three or four different versions of the virus—a super vaccine, if you will. Although not always perfect, and depending on which strains gain strength, the vaccine can reduce the risk of flu illness by about 50 to 60 percent, according to Bartlett. (You've got options! Which Flu Vaccine is Right for You?)

Reasons We Skip It—And How to Beat Your Fears
So why do people still skip rolling up their sleeves? For some, it's a fear of needles (we get that!). The good news here? If needles totally freak you out, you can opt for the nasal spray, says Bartlett. Just talk to your doctor first since there are a few rules about who's allowed to receive this treatment—for example, children under two and adults over 50 years, pregnant women, and people with weak immune systems should opt for the needle.

Another reason some forgo the vaccine: There's a common misconception that the vaccine contains a live virus. "Some people may experience mild fever and aches (along with a sore arm) the day or two following the shot, but this is not the flu," says Bartlett. "This is the body's immune system revving up so it is ready to fight it off."

The bottom line: There's really no reason not to look into getting your shot this year. So c'mon—head over to your local pharmacy and hop in line for the fall ritual. PSL up next.


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