Flu season is here. We need to take the flu seriously every year, but especially in 2020. With COVID-19 still spreading in our communities, the combined impact of the pandemic and flu season poses a serious health risk. Not only would it be dangerous to get the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, for people who get a serious case of the flu that requires hospitalization, hospital capacity may be strained more than it usually is. Bottom line, the flu and COVID-19 make for a really bad combination.
The good news is that you can dramatically reduce your chances of getting the flu with one simple step: getting the 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. Privia Medical Group 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.
Get Your Flu Shot!
Having the flu is no fun. If you’ve ever had it, you probably recall the symptoms: body aches, fever, chills and exhaustion. These symptoms don’t go away quickly – many people can be in bed for a week or more with the flu. For some, the flu can lead to even more serious problems, such as pneumonia and in especially severe cases, death.
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. Those who have 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 2020-2021 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.
“There is no reason to fear getting the flu vaccine,” says Dr. Dan Kutzler, an internal medicine physician. “Contrary to what some mistakenly think, the flu vaccine does not cause the flu! Flu vaccines contain either an inactive flu virus or no flu virus at all. It is impossible to get the flu from the vaccine.”
Is the Flu Vaccine Really Effective?
Yes. It’s not a 100% guarantee that you will not get the flu, but it significantly lowers your chances of doing so. And, if you do get the flu, you are more likely to recover faster if you have had the vaccine.
According to the CDC, in the 2018-19 flu season, vaccines prevented:
- 4 million flu illnesses
- 58,000 hospitalizations
- 3,500 deaths
These statistics prove the flu vaccine is effective – and this is with only about half the country getting vaccinated. If everyone would get a vaccine as recommended, even more illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths would be prevented.
In addition to getting a flu vaccine, you should take additional precautions. Fortunately, all the things we should be doing to slow the spread of COVID-19 will also help contain the flu. Measures such as washing your hands frequently and using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol are particularly important. Always cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough to prevent the spread of germs. And wear a face covering at all times when in public – studies have shown that masks are effective at preventing the transmission of viruses.
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, you should call your doctor right away. Since some flu symptoms mirror symptoms of COVID-19, you should contact your physician and ask for guidance on what to do – you may be advised to get a COVID-19 test, a flu test or both.
If you have the flu, your physician can 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 contact your doctor.
“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 Dr. Arnold Morris, III, a family medicine doctor. “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 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 – and as long as COVID-19 is still around, avoiding the flu is more important than ever.
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