Each year, millions of Americans get the flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 8% (more than 2 million people) of the U.S. population will get sick from the flu, leading to hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths. While each season is different in terms of length, severity and the types of flu viruses that are most prevalent, vaccination is still the best way to prevent the flu and flu-related complications.
Jayne Lee, R.N., Director of Infection Control and Patient Safety at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital, answers some key questions below about flu season, the flu vaccine and steps you can take to stay healthy.
What is the flu shot?
The flu shot is a vaccine given with a needle, most commonly in the upper arm. The seasonal shot normally protects against the four influenza viruses that researchers believe will be most common during the flu season.
When does flu season begin?
It’s possible to get the flu year-round, but flu season normally peaks during the fall and winter months. While the exact timing and duration of flu seasons vary, flu activity normally begins increasing in October and lasts as late as May. Think about it this way – once you start gathering for holiday celebrations, flu season has arrived, and you should get vaccinated and take extra precautions to stay healthy. The 2018-19 season was record-breaking in terms of length, with flu activity elevated for more than five months.
Why should I get the flu shot?
Influenza is a potentially serious illness that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body, and these are what provide protection against infection from the virus strains that are in the vaccine. The flu shot remains the most effective way to help protect against the flu.
Who should get the flu shot?
Everyone 6 months of age and older should be vaccinated, but especially those in certain high-risk populations such as people with chronic disease, pregnant women and women who have given birth within two weeks, children younger than 5 years, adults age 50 and over, and people with weakened immune systems due to disease or medication.
Can the vaccine make me sick?
The risk of a flu shot causing serious harm is small, but a vaccine, like any medicine, could cause problems such as an allergic reaction. And no, a flu shot can’t give you the flu. Rarely, people who get the flu shot have a fever, muscle pain and feelings of discomfort or weakness. In these cases, symptoms usually last for one to two days after vaccination and are much less severe than actual flu illness.
OK, I’m ready for my shot…where do I go?
Already seeing a FirstHealth family medicine, primary care or internal medicine provider? Great! Schedule an appointment with them today to get your vaccine. Otherwise, stop by one of FirstHealth’s seven convenient care locations to get vaccinated.
About the flu
Flu is a respiratory disease caused by the influenza virus. Symptoms can be mild to severe and include sore throat, runny nose, cough, fever, muscle or body aches, headache and fatigue. The time from when a person is exposed and infected with flu to when symptoms begin is about two days but can range from about one to four days.
Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by tiny droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. People with the flu are most contagious in the first three to four days after their illness begins. Aside from an annual vaccination, CDC also recommends additional preventative actions, including staying away from people who are sick, covering coughs and frequent handwashing.