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Health Watch: Airplane Flu Outbreak Acting As Flu Shot Warning

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – The reported flu outbreak among passengers on a United Arab Emirates flight quarantined at JFK is reminding many that it's time to get a flu shot.

It was the kind of flight no one ever wants - 13 hours cooped up in a cabin with over one hundred coughing and sneezing travelers. While some thought that a few sick passengers got all the others sick, cold and flu viruses have an incubation period of one to four days.

"It's technically not possible that they got it on the plane and got sick on the plane," Dr. Waleed Javaid of Mount Sinai Downtown explained.

The infectious disease specialist added that the JFK incident shows how easily illnesses like the flu can spread through air travel, even if it's technically not yet flu season.

Dr. Javaid believes this means it's time for a flu shot however, CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez says there are some important changes in the vaccines available this year.

The CDC reported that a nasal spray vaccine is again an option for healthy people between the ages of two and 49.

Virtually all flu shots this year will be called "quadrivalent," meaning they'll contain four flu strains instead of three. This new flu shot may improve the chances for preventing whatever viruses will be circulating this season.

Physicians also recommend a couple of different high dose vaccines for senior citizens.

"As we get older, our immune system doesn't respond as well to vaccines, so we need stronger shots," Dr. Javaid said.

People getting a flu vaccine should remember that it takes a couple of weeks to develop an immunity, so now is a good time to get vaccinated. Pharmacies, clinics, and doctor's offices are already getting their supplies.

As for the over 500 passengers on the United Arab Emirates flight, health officials said there's a good chance more of them will come down with the flu in the next few days.

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