Do you plan to be one of fifty million people in the United States sidelined by the flu this year? If you’re among those considered at high risk of flu complications including pneumonia, loss of coordination, and worsening of existing conditions, skipping the flu shot increases your odds of becoming one of the half-million who requires hospitalization.
Who is at the greatest risk of influenza?
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) strongly recommends the influenza vaccination starting at six months old. Seniors, pregnant women, and young children are most at risk of complications or death from flu symptoms, yet anyone with weakened immunity or health problems should make the annual shot a priority.
That doesn’t mean that healthy, young adults are off the hook. Rare but very potent influenza strains cause higher mortality rates among this segment of the population. The Spanish Flu (H1N1) in the early 20th century is a devastating, sobering example.
Can the flu shot give me the flu?
The influenza vaccine is made with “killed” influenza virus. This allows your body to build up the natural antibodies that help your body fight off or reduce the symptoms of the flu. Because the virus is inert, it can’t give you the actual flu, but some people experience mild symptoms such as soreness, fatigue, or a mild fever. These usually go away within a day or two—far shorter than if you were to have the actual illness.
Why do some people get the flu even if they got the shot?
Twice a year, the World Health Organization decides which influenza strains are most likely to become an epidemic. There are several types of influenza, so there’s a small chance you’ll be exposed to a strain that’s not included in the vaccine. The “recipe” for the Northern Hemisphere differs from that used in the Southern hemisphere, so if you travel, you could be exposed to a variant not covered by your flu shot.
After your influenza vaccination, your body needs about two weeks to build up immunity. If you were exposed to the virus shortly before or immediately after you were vaccinated, you could still get the flu. If you are among those at higher risk, your body may never build up enough antibodies to prevent the flu. Still, the flu vaccine should significantly ease the symptoms and reduce the duration of the illness.
How are flu and common cold symptoms different?
The common cold and influenza share several symptoms, but the flu is much more serious. The common cold is rarely life-threatening.
You can feel a cold “coming on,” but the flu hits you out of the blue.
Fevers rarely accompany the common cold, but they’re almost always present with the flu.
You may feel achy, weak, and fatigued if you have either, but physical discomfort is significantly worse with the flu.
Do you have the chills? You almost definitely have the flu instead of a simple cold.
While sneezing, coughing, sore throat, and a stuffy nose are the hallmarks of a cold, you might experience these symptoms if you have the flu. Chest congestion may be worse with flu patients, increasing the risk of pneumonia in weaker patients.
If you have a cold, it’s unlikely you’ll have the awful headaches common to the flu.
If you experience nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, but none of the above flu symptoms, you probably have a bacterial infection in your digestive tract. The “stomach flu” really isn’t the flu at all. Kids are more likely to experience gastrointestinal problems with the flu than are adults.
When and how can I get my flu shot?
For those of us north of the equator, late summer or early fall is the optimal time to get vaccinated against influenza. The CDC recommends you get your shot by the end of October. Sensitive, the elderly, and infants may need their vaccinations spread over two doses, and the course is best begun in late August or early September. You can still benefit from the flu shot anytime during the season, though, so if you missed the ideal window, it’s not too late.
The flu shot only lasts about four months, so be sure to get re-vaccinated every year. You can get your flu shot at large pharmacies or neighborhood walk-in clinics, but we recommend you come in to see us at Hudson Physicians. Some people aren’t good candidates for the shot, and your doctor may prescribe an alternative vaccination program.
See our locations and a range of hours for your convenience. Protect you and your family against the flu this season.