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5 Things to Know About the Flu Shot

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Back-to-school is nearly synonymous with flu season, which means sunburned noses are about to give way to runny noses rubbed raw from one too many tissues.

Fortunately, the 2013-14 flu shot is already available, and this year it's better than ever, covering four strains of the virus instead of the usual three.

"You can see cases as early as October," ABC News chief health and medical editor Dr. Richard Besser said recently on Good Morning America. "So I like to get the vaccine as soon as it's available. I got mine last Friday."

Here's what you need to know about the flu shot to get ready for flu season this year.

The flu vaccine doesn't have to be a shot.
Nowadays, you can get the flu shot without the traditional needle pricking your muscle. The flu vaccine is available in a nasal spray for people ages 2 years old to 50 years old. For those who can't get the nasal spray, but are still squeamish about needle sticks, there's a micro-needle that delivers the same protection in a shallower shot called an intradermal needle.

Pregnant women should definitely get a flu shot.
Pregnant women may have to avoid certain medications, but they can -- and should -- be sure to get a flu shot because their immune systems are depressed to accommodate the growing fetus, leaving them vulnerable to the flu virus. Last year, the World Health Organization said pregnant women should be given top priority for flu vaccinations, putting them above the elderly, children and people with chronic health conditions.

It's a good idea to get vaccinated early.
Sure, it still seems like summer, but flu season isn't tied to weather. It's actually tied to the school year, when children are in close quarters and don't always wash their hands. And, remember, flu season still hits warm states like Mississippi.

The shot can't give you the flu.
Despite urging from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to get vaccinated every year, about half of Americans skip it, many fearing that it will make them sick. While the flu shot uses parts of a dead flu virus to train your immune system to fight it, it can't make you sick. The nasal spray vaccine uses a live virus, but it's weakened so it can only multiply in the nose. It shouldn't give you the flu, but some patients get a sore throat for a day.

Getting the flu once doesn't protect you against getting it again.
Just because you already had the flu this year doesn't mean you don't need the vaccine. Since there are multiple strains of the flu going around every year, it's possible you'll get one of the strains that didn't get you sick already. The flu shot protects against four strains of the flu, and even though it's only 59 percent effective, it's your best chance at a flu-free year.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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