September is here – hopefully that means the temperatures will soon begin to cool after a long and hot summer. While the Fall brings welcome changes in the weather, it also brings with it an unwanted visitor: the flu.
The seasonal flu, also called influenza, can be a serious illness. It’s a virus, so antibiotics won’t help if you get it. Young children, older adults and people who are immunocompromised are at greater risk of serious illness – and even death – from the flu.
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 (PMGNTX) physicians recommend their patients get a flu shot at the beginning of September. It takes a couple of weeks for the vaccine to provide maximum protection, so a September vaccination helps ensure you are ready 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.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone ages six months or older receive an annual flu vaccine. While everyone should get a flu vaccine each year, it is especially critical that people who are at high-risk do so, including:
- Children younger than five
- Adults 65 and older
- Women who are pregnant
- People who live in nursing homes or long-term care facilities
For 2022, the CDC has adopted a recommendation that adults ages 65 and older receive one of the following vaccines: Fluzone High-Dose Quadrivalent, Flublok Quadrivalent or Fluad Quadrivalent. These vaccines are regarded as “potentially more effective” than others and are therefore preferred for older adults whose immune systems are not as strong. There is no preference on the type of vaccine for people under age 65.
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 to protect against the most likely strains of the flu virus. Because the flu strains tend to evolve and vary from year to year, it is vitally important that people be vaccinated annually.
Contrary to some vaccine myths, flu vaccines contain either an inactive flu virus or no flu virus at all; therefore, it is impossible to get the flu from the vaccine.
Where Can I Get a Flu Vaccine?
Most PMGNTX primary care providers offer the flu vaccine in their offices – this is a good option if you’re going to be there for a checkup or another reason. If not, it’s probably most convenient to just go to a local pharmacy. If you are 65 or older, be sure to ask for one of the three preferred vaccines mentioned above.
You can also get your COVID-19 vaccine or booster at the same time you get your flu shot. It is important to be protected against both viruses.
Does the Flu Vaccine Really Work?
Yes. Getting the vaccine is 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 2019-20 flu season, vaccines prevented:
- 7.5 million flu illnesses
- 105,000 hospitalizations
- 6,300 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. 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. Consider wearing a face covering when in crowded public places – studies have shown that masks are effective at preventing the transmission of viruses. In fact, flu cases have been unusually low the last two years, likely due to people wearing masks and taking other precautions during the COVID pandemic.
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 often mirror symptoms of COVID-19, you should contact your physician and ask for guidance on what to do – you may be advised to take 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.
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. 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. It’s quick, safe and effective!
This article has been reviewed and approved by a panel of Privia Medical Group North Texas physicians.
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