SEPTEMBER 24, 2016
The flu. If you’ve ever had it – and many of us have – you know there are few things that can make a person feel so miserable. 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 two with the flu. And 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 the 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 – May, though it tends to peak from December through February. Texas Health Care 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. This helps ensure protection when flu season traditionally begins in October.
“Getting a flu shot each year is one of the best things you can do for your health,” says Texas Health Care Member and Infectious Disease specialist Jeffrey Tessier, M.D. “Most Texas Health Care family physicians have flu shots available in their offices and vaccines are also readily available at most pharmacies.”
“Getting a flu shot each year is one of the best things you can do for your health.”
– Dr. Jeffrey Tessier
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.
For 2016-17, the CDC recommends only the flu shot and advises that the nasal spray not be used this year.
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 effectiveness of the vaccine varies from year to year – there are several strands of the flu, and the makers of the vaccine include viruses that they believe are most likely to be prevalent in the upcoming flu season.
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.
“In addition to antivirals, the best thing you can do is get plenty of bed rest and drink lots of fluids,” says Dr. Tessier. “Resting your body completely gives it the best chance to fight the flu virus and get better. Plus, if you have the flu you are highly contagious – so it’s important you stay at home!”
Keep in mind that you can greatly decrease the odds of a week or two in bed, feeling miserable. Get your flu shot today. The sooner you get vaccinated the better, but as long as flu season is underway, it’s never too late!