There are few illnesses that make a person feel as miserable as the flu. If you’ve ever had the flu, you probably recall the symptoms vividly. Body aches. Fever. Chills. Exhaustion. All of these symptoms appear when you get the flu, and they don’t go away quickly – many people can be in bed for a week or more with this illness. But the flu is to be avoided not only for the terrible symptoms it causes. For some, the flu can lead to even more serious problems, such as pneumonia and in especially severe cases, death.
The good news is that you can dramatically reduce your chances of getting the flu with one simple step: getting an annual flu vaccine. It’s fast, easy and cheap – and it could well save you from experiencing a serious illness this fall or winter.
Flu season runs from October to May, though it tends to peak in December, January, and February. Texas Health Care/Privia North Texas physicians recommend their patients get a flu shot at the beginning of September. It takes a couple of weeks for the vaccine to be completely effective, so a September vaccination helps ensure protection by the time flu season typically begins in October.
“Getting a flu shot each year is one of the best things you can do for your health,” says Dr. Wilder Diaz-Calderon, a doctor of Internal Medicine. “Most Texas Health Care family physicians have flu shots available in their offices and vaccines are also readily available at most pharmacies.”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone ages 6 months or older receive an annual flu vaccine. While everyone should get a flu vaccine, it is especially critical that people who are considered “high-risk” do so, including:
- Children younger than five and adults 65 and older
- Women who are pregnant
- People who live in nursing homes or long-term care facilities.
In addition, people with certain health conditions are especially at risk, including those with asthma, heart disease, kidney or liver disorders, a compromised immune system and those who are morbidly obese. People with these conditions are more susceptible to flu-related complications, including pneumonia, bronchitis and sinus infections. In addition, the flu can worsen pre-existing conditions, triggering hospitalization.
The flu vaccine is updated annually. According to the CDC, the 2017-18 vaccines have been updated to protect against the three or four strains of the flu that experts predict will be the most prevalent this season. Because the flu strains tend to evolve and vary from year to year, it is vitally important that people be vaccinated each year.
“Contrary to a common myth, the flu vaccine does not cause the flu!” says Dr. Charles Carlton, an Internal Medicine physician. “The vaccine contains either an inactive flu virus or no flu virus at all, so it is impossible to get the flu from the vaccine.”
Is the Flu Vaccine Really Effective?
Yes. It’s not a 100 percent guarantee that you will not get the flu, but it dramatically lowers your chances of doing so. The CDC analyzed data from the 2015-2016 flu season and found that administration of the flu vaccine prevented:
- 5 million people from getting the flu,
- 2.5 million people from having to make a medical appointment for flu treatment and
- 71,000 people from being hospitalized – that’s about the number of hospital beds in the entire state of Texas.
In addition to getting a flu vaccine, you should always take other precautions, such as washing your hands frequently or using hand sanitizers. Always cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough in order to prevent the spread of germs.
What If I Get the Flu?
If you begin to experience flu-like symptoms, such as a high fever (100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher), body aches and chills, headache, fatigue, nasal congestion and sore throat, see your doctor right away. Your physician can test for the flu and if you have it, prescribe antiviral medication that may help you recover more quickly. These medications can help lessen and shorten the symptoms, but they generally work best within 48 hours of the onset of the flu, so it’s important to see the doctor quickly if you suspect you have the flu.
“After you’ve seen your doctor, the best thing you can do is take medication as prescribed, get plenty of bed rest and drink lots of fluids,” says Internal Medicine physician Dr. Dorris Morrissette. “Resting your body as much as possible gives it the greatest chance to combat the flu virus and begin to recover. Also, if you have the flu, you are highly contagious. That’s why it’s important to stay home and avoid contact with other people until you are well, or at a minimum, at least until you have been fever-free for 24 hours.”
You can greatly decrease the odds of spending a week or two in bed by getting your flu shot today. The sooner you get vaccinated the better, but as long as flu season is underway, it’s never too late!
This article contains information sourced from: