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 or rarely, death.

The very young and the elderly are the most likely to have a severe case of the flu that results in hospitalization as their immune systems have a greater challenge when fighting off the virus.

The Flu Season

The flu season in the United States is most common in the fall and winter, though the timing and duration of flu season varies each year. It typically begins in October and peaks between December and February, although activity can last as late as May.

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. It is one of multiple ways to prevent spreading (or catching) the flu. 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.

It is important to remember that the flu can be spread up to 24 hours before symptoms appear, so the idea that you will just stay home if you are sick means you can spread the flu for a full day before you actually know you are ill.

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 and proper hand washing are the best ways to prevent the flu in all individuals six months of age or older. That said, when the flu shot should be timed prior to surgery seems to vary based on the opinion of the individual surgeon.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting vaccinated in early fall. Getting vaccinated early, for example, in July or August, can be associated with reduced protection against flu infection later in the flu season, particularly among older adults. However, children who need two dosesshould start the vaccination process sooner, because the two doses must be given at least four weeks apart.

If the patient is taking the standard flu shot it should be received no less than one week prior to surgery. Some surgeons say one week prior, while others say two weeks before surgery at the minimum. 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, and some prefer it be given sooner than that.

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 prior to surgery, and many fellow patients will also have a decreased immune system, making them higher risk for contracting the flu.

10 Things to Tell Your Surgeon Before Surgery

Types of Flu Shots

There are three types of influenza vaccine, including inactivated influenza vaccine, recombinant influenza vaccine, and live attenuated influenza vaccine. 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. This type is avoided in individuals who have a compromised immune system.

A Word From Verywell

While there has been much talk about vaccines being harmful, scientific research has shown again and again that the best prevention is annual vaccination and hand washing. Opinions differ on the topic of vaccines, but research based evidence conclusively shows that the flu shot is very important when it comes to avoiding influenza.

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Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Flu symptoms. Reviewed September 18, 2019.

  2. Centers for Disease Contron and Prevention. What is flu season? Reviewed July 12, 2018.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu vaccination. Reviewed December 2, 2019.

  4. Tartof SY, Qian L, Rieg GK, et al. Safety of Seasonal Influenza Vaccination in Hospitalized Surgical Patients: A Cohort Study. Ann Intern Med. 2016;164(9):593-9. doi:10.7326/M15-1667

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Take three actions to protect against flu. Reviewed September 19, 2019.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Who needs a flu vaccine & when. Reviewed October 11, 2019.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu vaccination. Rreviewed December 2, 2019.

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