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Flu Season Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

In an effort to help patients stay informed about influenza, we have created the FAQs below from information provided by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (MDPH).

Will there be flu with COVID-19 this winter?

While it’s not possible to say with certainty what will happen in the fall and winter, CDC believes it’s likely that flu viruses and the virus that causes COVID-19 will both be spreading. Relaxed COVID-19 precautionary measures (such as stay-at-home orders or mask mandates) may result in an increase in flu activity during the upcoming 2021-2022 flu season In this context, getting a flu vaccine will be more important than ever. CDC recommends that all people 6 months and older get a yearly flu vaccine.

Can I have flu and COVID-19 at the same time?

Yes. It is possible have flu, as well as other respiratory illnesses, and COVID-19 at the same time. Health experts are still studying how common this can be. Some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, making it hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. Diagnostic testing can help determine if you are sick with flu or COVID-19.

How do I know if I am at high risk for influenza?

This CDC Influenza page features information on the groups of people who are more likely to get serious flu-related complications if they get sick with flu.

Frequently Asked Questions for Pregnant Women

Why are flu vaccines being recommended for pregnant women?
Over the past several years, studies and case reports have suggested that seasonal influenza can be especially dangerous in pregnant women and it can lead to hospitalization or severe illness. Infection with the flu also increases the risk of delivering a baby early which can cause complications for the newborn.  Because of this, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Atrius Health OB/GYN department recommend that women who are pregnant accept the flu vaccine as soon as it’s available and prior to the peak of the flu season. The vaccine will protect against four influenza strains that are predicted to circulate this year. Flu vaccination is needed every year to boost and maintain immunity.

What if I am pregnant and I get the flu?
Call your doctor right away if you have flu symptoms or if you have close contact with someone who has the flu. Some pregnant women sick with influenza have had early labor and severe pneumonia. If you are pregnant and have symptoms of the flu, take it very seriously. Call your doctor right away for advice and possible antiviral medication.

What can I do to protect myself, my baby, and my family?

Getting a flu shot is the single best way to protect against the flu. Talk with your doctor about getting the 2021-22 flu shot. The influenza vaccine has been shown to protect both the mother and her baby (up to 6 months old) from the flu.

Talk with your doctor right away if you have close contact with someone who has flu symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe Tamiflu® or Relenza® antiviral medication to help prevent you from becoming sick with the flu.

Is it safe for pregnant women to get a flu shot?

The seasonal flu shot has been given to millions of pregnant women over many years. Flu shots have been shown to be safe for pregnant women and their babies.

Is there Thimerosol in the flu vaccine?
The vaccines being administered to Atrius Health pregnant patients in Obstetrics do not contain mercury because we know some patients are concerned about this. That said, experts agree the type of mercury (Thimerosal) used in these vaccines is safe for a pregnant woman and her unborn baby. Studies have shown that Thimerosal does not affect normal development in babies. There is a real risk for a pregnant woman and her unborn baby if she gets sick with the flu, and this risk can be reduced by vaccinating the woman.

Can the influenza shot be given at any time during pregnancy?
Influenza vaccines are recommended to pregnant women at any time during pregnancy.

Should the flu shot be given to a pregnant woman who has had flu illness before? Do I need a test to know if I need the shot or not?
A pregnant woman who had a flu-like illness at any time in the past should still get the shot. Those pregnant women that had flu symptoms in the past do not need to be tested, but should get the vaccine.

If a pregnant woman delivers her baby before receiving her flu shot, should she still receive it?
Yes. Besides protecting her from infection, the shot will produce protection that can be passed to the infant through her breast milk. Flu shots are only given to infants 6 months of age and older. Everyone who lives with or gives care to an infant less than 6 months of age should get the influenza vaccine. 

What antiviral medicines are available for pregnant women who have the flu?
Oseltamivir (Tamiflu®) or zanamivir (Relenza®) can be used to treat influenza. To get these medications, a doctor needs to write a prescription. These medicines fight against the flu by keeping the viruses from multiplying in your body. If you get sick, the antiviral drugs can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious health problems that can result from flu illness. At this time, Tamiflu® is the best medicine to treat pregnant women who have the flu.

Frequently asked questions on High Dose Seasonal Influenza Vaccine

What is Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent influenza vaccine?
Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent is an influenza vaccine manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur Inc., designed specifically for people 65 years and older.

What is the difference between regular Influenza vaccine and Fluzone High-Dose?
High-Dose vaccine contains four times the amount of antigen (the part of the vaccine that prompts the body to make antibody) contained in regular flu shots. The additional antigen is intended to create a stronger immune response (more antibody) in the person getting the vaccine. This flu season the high dose flu vaccine newly helps protect against four different strains of influenza and is Quadrivalent instead of three (trivalent) in years past.

Why is a higher dose vaccine available for adults 65 and older?
Human immune defenses become weaker with age, which places older people at greater risk of severe illness from influenza.  Also, ageing decreases the body's ability to have a good immune response after getting influenza vaccine.  A higher dose of antigen in the vaccine is supposed to give older people a better immune response, and therefore, better protection against the flu.

Is Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent safe?
The safety profile of Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent vaccine is similar to that of regular flu vaccines, although some adverse events (which are also reported after regular flu vaccines) were reported more frequently after vaccination with Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent.  The most common adverse events experienced during clinical studies were mild and temporary, and included pain, redness and swelling at the injection site, headache, muscle aches, fever and malaise.  Most people had minimal or no adverse events after receiving the Fluzone High-Dose vaccine.

Who can get this vaccine?
Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent is approved for use in people 65 years of age and older and Atrius Health locations administer the high-dose flu vaccine to patients 65 years and older.

What are the possible side effects of the 2021-22 influenza vaccines?
The most common side effects after flu shots are mild, such as being sore and tender, red and swollen where the shot was given. Some people might have headache, muscle aches, fever, and nausea or feel tired. If these problems happen, they usually begin soon after the shot and may last as long as 1-2 days. Some people may faint after getting any shot. Rarely, flu shots can cause serious problems like severe allergic reactions. However, life-threatening allergic reactions to vaccines are very rare. A person who has a severe (life-threatening) allergy to eggs or to anything else in the vaccine should not get the shot, even if she is pregnant.