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How to get a flu shot?

UT Southwestern is offering flu shots to our patients at our retail pharmacies and at doctors’ offices for existing patients. Check with your providers about availability. Flu shots will also be available in several pop-up kiosks across our campus:

- Aston Building Lobby
- Professional Office Building 2 Lobby
- Outpatient Building Lobby
- West Campus Building 3 Lobby
- Drive-Thru (by appointment via MyChart)
- Campus Pharmacy
- University Hospital Retail Pharmacy
- Pharmacy at Fort Worth
- Pharmacy at Frisco

At UT Southwestern Medical Center, we are committed to preventing and treating seasonal influenza and its complications.

Through education, vaccinations, and prompt treatment, we work to limit transmission of this highly contagious respiratory virus.

Expert Prevention and Treatment of Influenza

Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is a viral infection that affects the respiratory system (nose, throat, and lungs).

It causes mild to severe illness; in the most serious cases, it can lead to significant inflammation of the lungs or even death. According to early estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as many as 60,000 people died in the U.S. in 2022-2023 from the flu. There were 54 million illnesses and more than 300,000 hospitalizations.

UT Southwestern is dedicated to providing the highest level of care for the flu. As leaders in clinical care, we recommend patients get the annual influenza vaccine, which is the most effective method for preventing flu and its complications. The faculty at UT Southwestern also performs innovative research in the development of treatments for various infectious diseases, including influenza.

Flu-like symptoms to watch for include fever, muscle aches, cough, congestion, runny nose, and sneezing.

Flu symptoms can be similar to those of COVID-19, but, as the CDC notes, influenza and COVID-19 are caused by different viruses.

COVID-19 and Influenza

With measures such as physical distancing and masking to help control the COVID-19 pandemic, influenza activity remained exceptionally low during the 2020-2021 flu season. As predicted, the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 influenza seasons saw an increase in the number of cases, both in adults and children. This is largely due to relaxation of mitigation measures such as physical distancing and masking, as well as fewer people having immunity against the flu either by vaccination or natural infection. During this past year, we also saw influenza activity begin earlier — in November — compared to January in prior years. The influenza vaccine is updated every year, which makes getting an annual shot the best way to protect against flu and its potentially serious complications.

Though caused by different viruses, COVID-19 and influenza are both contagious respiratory illnesses. They have a range of symptoms, from no signs at all (asymptomatic) to fever, cough, and/or pneumonia. Over the past two years, we have continued to learn about COVID-19, with symptoms varying depending upon the circulating variant, vaccination status, and history of prior infection. Find a full list of COVID-19 symptoms here.

To minimize the risk of COVID-19 and flu, we encourage people to follow local and federal guidance, as the risk may vary throughout the year. We encourage individuals – especially the elderly, those with underlying medical conditions such as chronic heart or lung disease, and those who are immunocompromised – to continue to wear masks indoors or at large gatherings. Everyone should monitor themselves for symptoms, get tested when appropriate, and frequently wash their hands with soap for at least 20 seconds or use hand sanitizer.

A combination COVID-19/influenza test was approved by the FDA in July 2020 and is available at pharmacies. At UTSW, we have a test that can determine whether a patient has flu, COVID-19, or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

Causes and Risk Factors of Influenza

Flu is caused by strains of influenza viruses that travel in the air when an infected person talks, sneezes, or coughs. These respiratory droplets can make their way into the mouths or noses of nearby people and infect healthy cells and spread. People can also become infected by touching a surface that has the virus on it and then touching their face.

The virus can affect anyone, but certain people have a higher risk of being infected or having more serious illness if infected :

  • Children younger than 5
  • Adults 65 or older
  • People who are overweight or obese
  • Those who live or work in a place with a high density of people, such as nursing homes or long-term care facilities
  • Native American people
  • Those with chronic health conditions or weakened immune systems from illnesses such as diabetes, kidney disease, heart disease, or lung conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma

Avoiding Influenza

Influenza vaccine

Getting the influenza vaccine, often called a flu shot, is one of the most important actions people can take to protect themselves from infection. The flu shot is particularly important for people who work in schools or the health care profession. The vaccine can reduce the risk of severity by 40% to 70%.

When to get a flu shot

Flu season usually runs from November through April in the Northern Hemisphere. Because it takes the vaccine a few weeks to be effective, it’s better to get it early in the season. We recommend getting the vaccine in September or October. If you are pregnant and will be in your third trimester in September or October, it is recommended you get the flu vaccine earlier to allow enough time for protection to transfer to your unborn child.

What type to get

There are several types of flu vaccines, and our providers can help patients decide which one is right for them:

  • Injection: Given with a needle, typically in the arm
  • Nasal spray (live, attenuated influenza vaccine): May be given to people ages 2 through 49 who prefer a spray over needles; it should not be given to women who are pregnant
  • High-dose vaccine: For people 65 or older
  • Egg-free vaccine: For people with severe egg allergies

The vaccine can have side effects, which are usually mild and go away within a few days. These include:

  • Tenderness, redness, or swelling (at the site of the shot)
  • Runny nose (for the nasal spray)
  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Headache
  • Nausea

How effective is the flu vaccine?

The influenza vaccine tends to frustrate people because, while it is the best way to protect against the virus, it is not 100% effective. Influenza is a respiratory virus that mutates, or changes, frequently. That’s why it requires annual vaccinations.

Every year, researchers monitor viruses worldwide and update the flu vaccine to combat what they think will be the dominant circulating strains that will cause flu that year. The predictions of these experts are pretty accurate but not perfect. Recent studies by the CDC estimate the vaccine reduces the risk of influenza by 40% to 60% in the overall population. In a study conducted from 2012 to 2015, it was found that the vaccine reduced the risk of being admitted to the intensive care unit for the flu by 82%. Studies have also shown that being infected with the flu can lead to a higher risk of heart attack.

Researchers at the National Institutes of Health are hard at work developing a universal flu vaccine that would protect against multiple strains for up to 10 years. For now, UT Southwestern’s infectious disease specialists say there is no debate: The flu vaccine is the best defense against influenza.

Other ways to stay safe

In addition to getting a flu vaccine, you can protect yourself and others from the virus by:

  • Washing your hands with soap or alcohol-based hand sanitizer frequently, for at least 20 seconds at a time.
  • Wearing a mask (and changing it if it becomes soiled from a runny nose or cough).
  • Not sharing silverware, drinks, towels, or personal hygiene items.
  • Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue or the inside of the elbow when you cough or sneeze.
  • Sanitizing high-touch surfaces, such as doorknobs, light switches, and toilet handles.
  • Taking precautions by not going to the office and not traveling if you do not feel well and not sending children to school if they don’t feel well.
  • Contacting your provider if you have symptoms of the flu, so you can be tested and begin treatment as soon as possible.

Influenza Symptoms

The flu may resemble a common cold, though the symptoms are usually more severe and longer lasting. Signs of the flu include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Sore throat
  • Cough
  • Muscle aches
  • Stuffy or runny nose
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children)

In some people, flu causes complications. High-risk groups include:

  • Adults 65 or older
  • Children 5 or younger
  • Pregnant women, or women who have recently given birth
  • People with chronic conditions such as heart disease, asthma, or diabetes

These severe complications can include:

  • Bronchitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Respiratory failure requiring hospitalization or treatment in the intensive care unit

Diagnosing Influenza

To diagnose flu, our providers begin with a thorough evaluation that includes a:

  • Discussion of symptoms
  • Review of personal and family medical history
  • Physical exam

Based on the exam, we may perform a test for influenza, which involves swiping the inside of the patient’s nose or the back of the throat with a swab. The swab is then tested for the virus. With the rapid test, we typically have the results in about 20 minutes; other tests can take one or two days for results to return.

Influenza Treatment

Our providers will recommend a treatment plan based on the patient’s situation. We always recommend drinking plenty of fluids and avoiding contact with others. Tamiflu is universally recommended for patients of all ages but especially for people who are at high risk of complications or for those who have signs of a more serious infection.

Tamiflu or other antiviral drugs with activity against influenza can help shorten the duration of the illness and prevent serious complications. For the best results, patients should take antiviral drugs within three days of coming down with the flu.

Patients should not take aspirin if they have the flu, as it can lead to inflammation of the liver (Reye’s syndrome).

Main Flu Myths

Eight infectious disease experts at UT Southwestern Medical Center respond to common myths about the flu with facts.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are there new recommendations for the 2023-2024 flu season?

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) finalized its recommendations for the 2023-2024 flu season.

It advises that the quadrivalent influenza vaccine contains the following:

Egg-based vaccines

  • an A/Victoria/4897/2022 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus (updated)
  • an A/Darwin/9/2021 (H3N2)-like virus
  • a B/Austria/1359417/2021-like virus (B/Victoria lineage)
  • a B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus (B/Yamagata lineage)

Cell- or recombinant-based vaccines

  • an A/Wisconsin/67/2022 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus (updated)
  • an A/Darwin/6/2021 (H3N2)-like virus
  • a B/Austria/1359417/2021-like virus (B/Victoria lineage)
  • a B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus (B/Yamagata lineage)

For trivalent vaccines (depending on the manufacturing method), the FDA recommends the following:

  • an A/(H1N1)pdm09-like virus
  • an A/Darwin/9/2021 (H3N2)-like virus
  • a B/Austria/1359417/2021-like virus (B/Victoria lineage)
Will this year’s vaccine be a good match against circulating viruses?

It’s difficult to predict whether the influenza vaccine will be a good match for this year's circulating flu strains because the viruses are constantly changing. It’s important to remember that multiple viruses usually circulate during any one season. Even if the effectiveness of the vaccine is reduced against one virus, it can still help prevent flu caused by the other circulating viruses, because the vaccine protects against three or four strains.

Who should get the flu vaccine?

It is recommended that all people age 6 months or older receive an annual vaccination, with rare exceptions. Vaccination is particularly important for people who are at high risk of serious complications from influenza, such as people 65 or older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions, pregnant women, and children younger than 5. People with severe, life-threatening allergies or reactions to the flu vaccine or any of its ingredients should not get one.

What is the difference between the shot and the nasal spray?

The flu shot is injected into your upper arm. It is made from dead (inactivated) influenza virus and cannot give you the flu. It is recommended for all people age 6 months or older. The nasal spray (sprayed into the nose) is made from a weakened live virus that cannot give you the flu. The nasal spray can be taken by people ages 2 to 49 who are in good health; it should not be given to women who are pregnant.

What are the side effects of the flu vaccines?

Common side effects include soreness, redness, and/or swelling where the shot was given and sometimes headache, fever, nausea, muscle aches, and fatigue.

Besides getting vaccinated, how can people protect themselves from the flu?
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • If you are sick, limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with viruses that cause flu.
  • Wear a mask in public settings where you cannot physically distance or there is poor air flow.
Will COVID-19 antibodies protect me against the flu?

No. COVID-19 antibodies do not protect against the flu, because influenza and COVID-19 are caused by different viruses.

Should I get a flu vaccine if I’ve had COVID-19?

Yes. Even if you’ve had COVID-19, you still need a flu shot because they are different viruses that cause two different diseases.

How does the flu vaccine differ from the COVID-19 vaccine?

Coronavirus vaccines and flu shots use distinctly different technologies against different viruses, but they still have the same job of teaching our immune system how to recognize and attack a virus. Both shots may trigger side effects such as fatigue, chills, and low-grade fever. The COVID-19 vaccine appears to be even more effective than the flu vaccine at preventing severe disease, along with hospitalization and death.

Where can I get a flu vaccine at UT Southwestern?

UT Southwestern is offering flu shots to our patients at our retail pharmacies and at doctors' offices for existing patients. Check with your providers about availability.