Getting Your Seasonal Flu Shot

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Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 7.41.16 PMBy Nina Radcliff, MD

Every year, the influenza virus causes millions of illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations, and thousands or sometimes tens of thousands of deaths. While not 100 percent effective, the flu shot remains the first and best protection against the influenza virus. 

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that all people over the age of 6 months should get immunized.  The CDC has gone on record noting: This season’s vaccines have been updated to better match circulating viruses.” In fact, there is a new flu shot option called a Quadrivalent Flu Vaccine, which contains protection against four different flu strains to maximize protection.

As the flu season prepares to sweep across our nation, we must not take its impact lightly – while it may seem harmless, we must be prepared as the flu can threaten the health and well-being …young and old.

Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: About Flu Season 

What is the seasonal flu?

It is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. Similar to the common cold, people with the flu often have a runny nose, cough, and sore throat. But, unlike the common cold, the flu also attacks the entire body and can manifest as: a fever of 100oF or higher, headaches, body aches, chills, fatigue, and nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea (more common in children). The flu can lead to serious complications, hospitalization, and even death.

Who are at an increased risk for complications from the flu?

Although anyone is at risk for the flu and its complications, children aged 6 months to 5 years, pregnant women, adults older than 65 years of age, and those with chronic health conditions (heart disease, diabetes, lung diseases) have an increased risk.

What complications can result from the flu?

They include bronchitis, pneumonia, dehydration, and ear and sinus infections. In addition, those with chronic health conditions can experience worsening of their disease: a person with heart disease may experience angina (chest pain); diabetics may develop very high blood sugar levels; asthmatics may start wheezing; and a person with emphysema may become short of breath.

When does flu season begin, peak, and end?

Although the timing varies, even in different parts of our country, most seasonal flu activity begins in October, peaks between December and February, and ends in May. 

What can I do to protect myself from the flu?

Get immunized! The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone six months of age and older as the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease. It is especially important in those who are considered at an increased risk for complications. It usually takes up to two week for antibodies to develop, so make sure to get immunized early. And if you have a child between the ages of 6 months to 8 years, they may need two doses of flu vaccine (four weeks apart) to become fully immunized against the flu. Make sure to discuss this with your child’s healthcare provider. 

The influenza virus is most commonly spread via aerosolized droplets that can travel up to 6 feet. It is important to stay away from people who are coughing and sneezing.  The virus can also survive on surfaces or objects and infect a person if they touch their mouth or nose. During the flu season, wash your hands frequently, don’t touch your mouth, nose, or eyes, and wipe down surfaces and objects that may be infected.

Where can I get a flu vaccine?

Flu vaccines are offered at many doctor’s offices, clinics, health departments, pharmacies and college health centers, as well as by many employers, and even by some schools.

What are some myths about the flu shot?

“I can get sick from the vaccine.” This is impossible because the flu shot is formulated from inactivated/dead virus. When this occurs, it is likely because you were exposed to the influenza virus before antibodies were formed. It is important to note that even if you still get the flu after receiving the flu shot, you are less likely to experience pneumonia, time lost from work, hospitalizations, and death.

“I didn’t get the flu last year.” This means you were lucky, not a superhero with special powers. 

“I don’t have time.” Face it, you don’t have time to get sick for 1-2 weeks, take off from work, be hospitalized, or die. It takes less than 15 seconds to perform.

“It costs too much.” The majority of recipients have no out-of-pocket costs. If you do pay for it, it is typically less than $30 and MUCH cheaper than a doctor’s office or emergency room visit or taking vacation days.

What treatments are available if I come down with the flu?

There are three FDA-approved influenza antiviral drugs—oseltamivir, zanamivir, and peramivir—that your healthcare provider may prescribe to reduce symptoms, the duration of illness, and serious complications of the flu. These medications work best when started early (48 hours) and should be considered, in particular, for those who are at an increased risk for flu complications. 

Over-the-counter medications are available to treat flu symptoms including fever, aches, sore throat, and runny and congested nose as well as post-nasal drip. Read the labels carefully and don’t take medicines at the same time that have the same ingredients or have ingredients that would interact.

It is very important to drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration may occur because of fever, lack of appetite, vomiting, or diarrhea. And, of course, stay home, rest, and recover!

How long am I contagious? Experts state that it is possible to infect others one day before symptoms develop (before you even know you’re sick!) and 5-7 days after symptoms appear. Children and those with weakened immune systems may be contagious for longer periods.

While the flu season is unpredictable, what is known is that it is knocking on our doors. Let’s get immunized, not just to protect ourselves, but also our loved ones.

In addition, stay vigilant to take good care of your health by eating a balanced diet, staying active, getting plenty of sleep and managing stress –  all of which will go a long way in helping to boost immune function which may reduce chances of getting the flu.  Take good care – and take action now!!

Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures. 

She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist and a member of the American Society of Anesthesiologists where she serves on committees for Young Physicians and Communications. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.