Should You Take the Flu Shot Before Surgery?

What You Should Know About the Influenza Vaccine and Surgery

fever, temperature, thermometer
Flu Vaccine Prevents Influenza.

What is Influenza?

Influenza, commonly known as “the flu”, is a viral illness that usually causes respiratory symptoms.  Common flu symptoms include: fever, body aches, cough, chills, runny or stuffy nose, headache, and feeling very tired.  The symptoms can range from mild to severe, and in serious cases, can result in hospitalization. 

The very young and the elderly are the most likely to have a severe case of the flu that results in hospitalization.

The Flu Season

The flu season in the United States occurs from November to March.  It is possible to be exposed to the flu--and to have the flu--in other months but the autumn and winter months are the most common times.

What the Flu Shot Does

The flu shot is designed to help your body fight off the influenza virus when you are exposed to it. The flu is spread by droplets, so being near an individual with the flu can easily lead to exposure to the virus.  These droplets can also survive for a short period on objects, so touching a door handle or another object after a person infected by influenza can also lead to exposure.  

The flu vaccine helps your body fight off the virus, so that you do not develop the flu after being exposed to a sick individual.  People can spread the flu virus before they become ill as well as during their illness, so exposure during the flu season is very common.

Should the Flu Shot Be Given Before Surgery?

The simple answer is yes, you should have the flu shot to prevent you from becoming ill before surgery.  The flu vaccine, along with proper hand washing, is the best way to prevent the flu in all individuals six months of age or older. 

Surgeons have differening opinions on when a patient who is having surgery should be vaccinated.  Most suggest that the patient have the vaccine as soon as it is available each year, and if the patient is taking the standard flu shot it should be received no less than one week prior to surgery.  If the live attenuated version of the flu vaccine is used (typically this is given in the nose) the vaccine should be taken no less than two weeks prior to surgery.

Ideally, the patient will receive the standard version of the flu shot, not the live version.  This is because the live version can result in a mild version of the flu, which the patient could then give to other hospitalized patients in the days following the shot.  This should be avoided as some patients have weakened immune systems. 

Types of Flu Shots

The influenza vaccine falls into 2 general categories: the live version and the standard version.  The live version, often given in the nose, is a weakened form of the influenza virus.  Some patients experience a mild version of the flu after receiving this form of vaccine.  The standard vaccination does not contain live influenza virus, so it does not cause flu-like symptoms. 

Trivalent: this vaccine provides resistance to three strains of influenza and is given by injection

Quadrivalent: this vaccine provides resistance to four strains of influenza and is given as an injection

Intradermal: this type of vaccine is administered through the skin, using tiny prongs which are held against the skin

High-Dose: this type of vaccine is for individuals 65 years of age and older, and has a larger dose of vaccine to help older patients build adequate immunity to influenza.

Live Attentuated: also known as LIAV, this influenza vaccine uses an active form of the influenza virus to trigger the immune system to build resistance


Seasonal Influenza: Flu Basics.  Centers for Disease Control. Accessed October, 2015.