Who needs the flu shot? Pretty much everyone

We enjoyed summer as much as anyone, but that morning chill in the air means one thing -- cold and flu season is here. With countless public health initiatives and medical professionals advocating for this important step, you may wonder how a shot can protect against a seasonal illness in the first place.

What many people don't know is that the flu vaccine is different each year, but protects against the flu virus through the same process since immunizations were invented.

A little background

People originally believed that the flu was caused by a bacterial infection. But after the initial flu outbreak subsided, the UK's Medical Research Council funded a sustained campaign that actually showed it was a virus.

We know, it's not exactly a pleasant story, but it gets better. These groundbreaking findings led to the development of the first flu vaccine in 1938 by Thomas Francis and Jonas Salk, who was also the father of the polio vaccine. These rudimentary vaccines were first used to immunize American soldiers during World War II.

So why do you need a flu shot every year?

There are plenty of differing thoughts on this, and you should always consult with your doctor before getting any vaccines. But most medical professionals agree it's important to get an annual flu shot, because these vaccines are one of the only immunizations that are continually updated. Influenza is a rare virus that changes and evolves, sometimes within the same flu season!

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu shots work by introducing new strains into the body, so the body's immune response can produce antibodies to ward off the infection. It takes about two weeks for these antibodies to form, which is why it's so important to get your flu shot early each season.

This past year, the CDC recommended the use of injectable flu vaccines, as opposed to the nasal spray flu vaccine, which wasn't as effective against that strain of the virus.

Alternative vaccines are also available, which protect against the same viruses as the primary vaccine, with an additional B virus included.

If you're pregnant...

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports flu shots given during pregnancy can protect both the mother and her baby for several months after birth from flu. And, the CDC recommends that pregnant women should receive a flu shot no matter what pregnancy trimester they are in to protect against the illness.

There are also additional options for those 65 and older, so consult your doctor to find the best option for your age and current state of health.

Yes, we just wrote a mouthful. But be sure to bookmark the FSA Store and HSA Store Learning Centers, since we'll continue to post seasonal updates, to ensure you stay on top of the latest cold and flu information all year round.

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