Flu season is coming – you can be ready for it by getting your annual flu shot.
If you’ve ever had the flu, you know how badly it makes you feel. 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 longer.
At a minimum, the flu is unpleasant and a major inconvenience. Sometimes, the flu can lead to even more serious problems, such as pneumonia and in especially severe cases, death.
Flu is Serious
A look at flu statistics from last year demonstrates how prevalent and serious the flu can be. Preliminary estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) project that between October, 2022 – April, 2023 the United States saw:
- 27 – 54 million flu cases
- 300,000 – 650,000 hospitalizations due to flu
- 19,000 – 58,000 deaths due to the flu
As you can see, flu can be widespread and for some, very dangerous.
“The good news is that you can dramatically reduce your chances of getting the flu with one simple step: getting an annual flu vaccine,” says Dr. Norma Escamilla, a family practice physician in Fort Worth. “It’s fast, easy and cheap – and it could well save you from experiencing a serious illness this fall and winter.”
Flu season runs from October to May and typically peaks December through February. Privia Medical Group North Texas (PMGNTX) physicians recommend everyone get a flu shot in September, because it takes a couple of weeks for the vaccine to be completely effective. A September vaccine provides the best protection by the time flu season arrives in October.
This year, we also need to get an updated COVID-19 vaccine when they become available. And for some older adults, a vaccine to protect against RSV may be necessary.
The CDC, the American Academy of Pediatrics and PMGNTX recommend that everyone age 6 months or older receive an annual flu vaccine. While everyone should get a flu vaccine, it is especially critical that people who are at high risk for getting the flu and/or at high risk for serious flu-related complications do so, including:
- Children younger than 5 years
- Adults age 65 and older
- Women who are pregnant
- People who live in nursing homes or long-term care facilities
- Health care workers
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.
Additionally, since infants younger than 6 months are too young to receive the flu vaccine, it is imperative that anyone who will be around an infant be vaccinated.
You can usually get your flu vaccine at your primary care provider’s office, or you can simply go to your neighborhood pharmacy to get your shot.
Is the Flu Vaccine Really Effective?
Yes! While it is not a 100% guarantee that you will not get the flu, the flu vaccine lowers your chances of getting it.
In addition, people who receive a vaccination and do get the flu experience less severe symptoms and a shorter duration of the illness compared to people who do not receive the vaccine. The effectiveness of the vaccine varies from year to year. The flu vaccine has been updated for 2023 to protect against the strands that researchers believe will be most prevalent this season.
In addition to getting a flu vaccine, you should always take other precautions, such as washing your hands frequently with soap and water. Always cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough to prevent the spread of germs.
How Does Flu Spread?
Flu spreads from person to person much the same way other respiratory illnesses, such as the common cold, spread. When someone with the flu sneezes, coughs or breathes too closely around others, respiratory droplets containing the flu virus can enter the mouth or nose of another person.
One way flu does not spread is through the vaccine; it’s a myth that the flu vaccine can give you the flu. The vaccine does not contain an active virus, so it is not possible for it to cause the flu.
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 medicine, the best thing you can do is get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids,” says Dr. Shamita Trivedi, a Plano pediatrician. “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 home and away from others.”
Other Important Vaccines
While COVID-19 is not nearly as widespread as it has been over the last three years, the virus is still here. Just like the flu virus, COVID continually adapts and mutates, developing new strands that can make us sick.
To protect against new strains of COVID-19, an updated vaccine is expected to be widely available by October. As of early August, the CDC has yet to issue formal guidance on this updated vaccine. Once guidance is issued, it is expected to be much simpler than previous COVID vaccine recommendations. It is anticipated that the new COVID vaccine will be recommended for virtually everyone, regardless of age and COVID vaccine history.
While respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) has been getting a lot of attention over the last year, it is not a new illness. In fact, you may have had it when you were young; most children get RSV by the age of two.
Normally, RSV is not a big deal. It produces cold-like symptoms, such as runny nose, coughing, sneezing and fever. It may also cause wheezing and loss of appetite. Most RSV infections go away within a week or two.
While RSV usually only causes mild symptoms, it can lead to more serious illness, including bronchiolitis – the inflammation of the lungs’ small airways – and pneumonia. RSV can be especially dangerous for older adults.
That’s why a new RSV vaccine will soon be available for adults 60 and older. The CDC recommends that people in this age group get the RSV vaccine after discussion with their health care provider. The RSV vaccine may be given at the same time as the flu shot.
Protect Yourself with Vaccines
Vaccines provide us with essential protection. The flu, COVID-19 and RSV all cause illnesses that can make us feel bad for several days – and in some cases, cause more severe and dangerous complications. Getting the flu shot and new COVID vaccine—plus the RSV vaccine, if you’re eligible – are some of the best ways to protect yourself from illness this winter.
This article has been reviewed and approved by a panel of Privia Medical Group North Texas physicians.
This article contains information sourced from: