Everything You Need To Know About The Flu Shot In Italy

flu shot in Italy

Early Fall. Days are shorter, jackets get out of the closet. Flu season is approaching.

Don’t get sad, get the flu shot and prepare to enjoy a healthy winter.

If you are afraid of spending your time in Venice or Milan sick with the Flu, we prepared some useful information about the next flu season and where to get a flu shot in Italy.

But first a few general questions that patients often ask.

When is the flu shot available in Italy?

The flu shot is usually available from mid-October. Due to the Italian climatic situation and based on data coming from the flu epidemics in Italy, autumn is the season for conducting flu vaccination campaigns. 

Doctors are encouraged to offer flu shot to eligible patients at any time during the flu season, even if they show up late for vaccination. 

This is particularly important during late flu seasons or in patients at higher risk of complications.

I’m just travelling through Italy, should I get the Flu shot?

Travellers who are venturing in parts of the World where the flu is currently outbreaking and have not gotten a flu vaccine, should be vaccinated to protect themselves during their trip.

If you are coming from a country where the flu shot is not available yet (e.g. Australia in October) and you travel through Europe in autumn or winter, you should consider being vaccinated at your first stop. 

I got sick while traveling in Italy and I may have a fever, how can I know?

First of all, buy a thermometer at a pharmacy or supermarket (termometro in Italian). 

If you are unfamiliar with Celsius degrees, the cut-off values, according to CDC, would be 37.8°C (100°F) or 38°C (100.4°F). 

This value is a general indication, but it can change depending to personal factors, such as age of the patient, method of measurement and usual temperature of the person. 

If your temperature is elevated beyond your norm, be wary of any other symptoms.  If you are sick and have flu-like illness, you should not travel

While ordinarily you should just stay home and rest until at least 24 hours with no fever, the recent outbreak of COVID-19 has changed guidelines. 

You should stay home, call Italy’s 112 emergency number or 1500 and wait for instructions (English available) if you have one or more of these symptoms: sore throat, cough, breathing difficulties, loss of smell and taste, diarrhea, joint and muscle pain and other symptoms attributable to COVID-19.

What vaccinations are available in Italy?

All vaccines available for flu shot in Italy contain inactivated virus. 

One vaccine with alive virus can be administered as a nasal spray suspension but this vaccine is not available in Italy. 

Although Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), and CDC raised doubts about its effectiveness in some previous seasons,  this vaccination is currently recommended in the USA. 

A “boosted” vaccine is also available, containing immune-enhancing substances for a better performance of the vaccine and is currently recommended for adults 65 years of age or older.  

The available inactivated influenza vaccines are produced in embryonated chicken eggs. As a result, there is a small amount of egg protein in these vaccines. 

Nonetheless, many studies have clearly demonstrated that egg-based vaccine can be safely administered in patients allergic to eggs, without any special precautions.

In September 2019 was made available for the first time in Italy a “cell-based” flu shot, called VIQCC or QIVc, that is produced from cultured animal cells rather than eggs. 

VIQCC is a quadrivalent flu vaccine that contains 2 type A viruses (H1N1 and H3N2) and 2 type B viruses. It is approved for people ages 9 and older. 

 

Where I can find information about influenza and flu shots?

The most reliable source is the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). In Italy the ISS (Istituto Superiore di Sanitá) and the Ministry of Health.  You can also ask your doctor for advice and to discuss your options.

 

Is the flu shot free in Italy?

According to the Italian Ministry of Health you can have a free flu shot if you are in one of the following categories:

  • 65 years old or older
  • Children over 6 months
  • Young and adults up to 64 years old with the following diseases:
    • Asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other serious pulmonary diseases
    • Cardiovascular diseases including congenital and acquired heart diseases
    • Diabetes and other metabolic diseases (including obese individuals with a BMI >30)
    • Chronic renal failure and adrenal insufficiency
    • Bone marrow and hemoglobin diseases
    • Cancer
    • Immune deficiencies (congenital or acquired, e.g. HIV)
    • Inflammatory bowel disease or malabsorption syndromes
    • If a major surgery is scheduled
    • Neuro-muscular diseases that impair the ability to swallow, increasing the risk of inhalation of respiratory secretions.
    • Chronic liver diseases
 

If you qualify for a free Flu shot in Italy, contact your NHS doctor or pediatrician, or go to a public vaccination centre. 

Why does flu outbreak in winter?

The reasons are not fully understood, but low humidity, low temperature and more time spent indoors with other people could be causing it.

If I get the flu shot, can I be sure that I will not get the virus?

No 

Although vaccination doesn’t always provide 100% protection, many studies have shown that it is much better to be vaccinated. 

Annual flu shot is recommended for all children and adults. The flu shot is your best bet for a good winter season in Italy.

I had the flu last year, can I get sick again this year?

Yes

Flu viruses are like chameleons. Every year they change and our immune system is not prepared for their new identity. 

Sometimes they change just a little bit and we are quite effective in responding to the infection. Some other times they come with a totally new identity and the disease can be severe. 

That’s why influenza vaccines must be formulated from scratch every year, in order to provide the best match with the circulating viruses. 

The Global Influenza Surveillance and Response System of the World Health Organization takes good care of us by finding the best vaccine each year.  

Can I get Flu from the vaccination?

No

The vaccine contains already killed viruses or small parts of them that cannot cause the flu syndrome. 

If after the administration you feel mild symptoms similar to flu (muscle ache, slight fever) that could be due to the normal, and quite common reaction to the vaccination. 

If this lasts for more than a couple of days it is possible that you have been exposed to the virus shortly before the vaccination and the shot didn’t have the time to take full effect (usually this takes 2 weeks).

I think I have the flu. Do I need to go to the doctor?

The Flu shares symptoms with many other diseases. The most common are:

  • fever
  • cough
  • body aches
  • stuffy nose
  • sore throat
  • head ache
 

In the majority of people flu symptoms subside in a week, although weakness and malaise sometimes can last for many weeks. 

Nonetheless flu may cause a serious infection. You should seek medical attention when symptoms do not improve or if you experience a worsening after an initial improvement. 

A bacterial or a viral pneumonia are not frequent but serious potential complications that need to be treated promptly.

My doctor prescribed me antibiotics for flu, is it correct?

Antibiotics are used against bacterial, not viral, infections. A “simple” flu is usually not treated with antibiotics. 

However, sometimes the flu virus may alter your lung defense mechanisms and some bacteria can take advantage of this, resulting in what doctors call a bacterial “superinfection” (i.e. a bacterial infection over a viral infection). 

In this case antibiotics need to be administered. 

If I’m feeling sick, should I be vaccinated anyway?

You should avoid to have the flu shot if you have fever or mild to severe respiratory symptoms (cough, runny nose, etc.). 

After this episode, when you are feeling better and fever and symptoms subside, you can get a flu shot. 

If you already had flu, the vaccine will just reinforce the immune memory of that and will boost the response to the vaccine, reducing the likelihood of a new infection during this season.

Wearing the mask is a sign of respect and consideration towards others and it greatly helps contain the spreading of germs.

How can I reduce the risk of spreading the virus?

As common among Japanese, you could wear a surgical mask.

Wearing the mask is a sign of respect and consideration towards others and it greatly helps contain the spreading of germs.

Another crucial measure is to wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and water.

You can use an alcohol-based sanitizer on your hands when soap and water aren’t available. This will also help you reduce the risk of contracting the virus.

Flu shot in Italy
Wearing a surgical mask helps reduce significantly the spreading of the flu

Still got doubts?

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DoctorsinItaly Team

This article was written, curated, and updated by the DoctorsinItaly team, as part of our efforts to share relevant and current information on health and wellness related topics, as well as on life as an expat or traveler in Italy.

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