WEDNESDAY, Sept. 25, 2013 (HealthDay News) -- This season's flu vaccine is now available, and Americans should get their flu shot as soon as possible, an expert says.
"Contrary to some beliefs, getting the flu shot in September is a good thing and will offer protection for the entirety of the flu season," Dr. Stephen Russell, an associated professor in the general internal medicine division at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, said in a university news release.
"Most people will only need one shot each year, but the flu shot a patient had last year will not protect them for this coming flu season," added Russell, who also is a lead physician at the UAB Medicine Moody Clinic.
The variety of this season's vaccines differs from than of previous years. For the first time, in addition to traditional vaccines that protect against three types of flu viruses, there's also a shot that shields against four strains of the flu bug, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A flu shot contains a killed virus and will not cause illness, so people shouldn't skip getting a flu shot based on that fear, Russell said. He also said there are alternative methods of vaccination for people who don't like needles.
"There is also a nasal spray that is effective; it is a live virus vaccine but is changed to not cause infection," Russell said. "The mist is a great option for those who are nervous about shots, but is not for patients with asthma or respiratory issues, and it is not right for those with diabetes."
He said the flu is a serious illness that can lead to hospitalization or even death and anyone who is eligible to get a flu shot should do so.
"Many people will say they do not need the vaccine, as they have never had the flu before, but that is like saying you don't need to wear your seatbelt because you have never had a wreck," Russell said. "You may have been fine in the past, but that should not offer security or protection for future exposures to the flu."
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone aged 6 months and older. It's especially important for people 65 and older, pregnant women, caregivers and people with medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and chronic lung disease.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about seasonal flu vaccination.