It’s flu season. Because the coronavirus (COVID-19) is still spreading throughout the country, this year it’s more important than ever to get the flu vaccine for an added level of protection.
Influenza (also called flu) is a virus that can cause serious illness. It’s more than just a runny nose and sore throat. The flu can make you very sick, and it can be especially harmful if you get it during or right after pregnancy.
The flu and COVID-19 are both contagious illnesses that affect the lungs and the ability to breathe but they are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by infection with a new coronavirus (called SARS-CoV-2) and flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses.
How is COVID-19 like the flu?
Symptoms of COVID-19 and flu are similar. Some people have COVID-19 and have no symptoms (asymptomatic) and some people have severe symptoms of the virus.
Symptoms of both COVID-19 and flu include:
- Fever, feeling feverish or having the chills
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle pain or body aches
- Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children than adults)
How is COVID-19 different than the flu?
There are several ways that COVID-19 is different that the flu:
- It seems to cause more serious illnesses in some people.
- It seems to spread more easily than flu.
- It can take longer before people show symptoms of COVID-19 and people can be contagious longer.
- People who get the virus may lose their sense of taste and/or smell.
Another important difference is there is a vaccine to protect against flu. There currently is no vaccine to prevent COVID-19. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus.
How does the flu spread?
Just like COVID-19, the flu spreads easily from person to person. When someone with the flu coughs, sneezes or speaks, the virus spreads through the air. You can get infected with the flu if you breathe it in or if you touch something (like a door handle or a phone) that has the flu virus on it and then touch your nose, eyes or mouth.
How can the flu harm your pregnancy?
The flu can be dangerous during pregnancy because pregnancy affects your immune system, heart and lungs. Health complications from the flu, like pneumonia, can be serious and even deadly—especially if you’re pregnant. In fact, if you’re pregnant or had a baby within the last 2 weeks, you’re more likely than other women to have serious health problems from the flu.
When you’re pregnant, your immune system isn’t as quick to respond to illnesses as it was before pregnancy. A lowered immune system means you’re more likely to get sick with viruses like the flu. Another reason the flu can be harmful during pregnancy is that your lungs need more oxygen, especially in the second and third trimesters. Your heart is working harder, too, during pregnancy. This stress on your body can make you more likely to get the flu.
Pregnant women who get the flu also are more likely to have preterm labor and preterm birth. Fever from the flu may be linked to birth defects and other problems in your baby.
How does the flu shot help protect you from the flu?
It’s very important for pregnant people to get the flu shot. It is the best protection against getting the flu. Getting a flu shot can help reduce your risk of getting the flu, having serious flu complications and needing treatment in a hospital. The flu vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of flu-associated acute respiratory infections in pregnant women by about 50 percent.
The flu shot contains a vaccine that helps prevent you from getting the flu. The flu shot can’t cause the flu. There are many different flu viruses, and they’re always changing. Each year a new flu vaccine is made to protect against three or four flu viruses that are likely to make people sick during the upcoming flu season. Protection from a flu shot only lasts about a year, so it’s important to get a flu shot every year.
It’s safe for most pregnant people to get the flu shot. Millions of pregnant people have safely received the vaccine over many years. Flu shots given during pregnancy help protect both you and your baby from the flu. In fact, the vaccine can protect your baby from the flu for the first several months after they are born.
Pregnant people should get a flu shot, not the nasal spray flu vaccine. Tell your health care provider if you have any severe allergies or if you’ve ever had a severe allergic reaction to a flu shot. Severe allergic reactions to flu shots are rare.
Where can you get a flu shot?
There are several ways to get the flu shot:
- From your health care provider
- From your local pharmacy
- At your workplace (if offered)
Use the Vaccine Finder to find out where you can get the flu vaccine.