The flu. For such a tiny word it strikes a lot of fear in people. And with good reason.
Caused by a respiratory virus, the flu can spread rapidly. Each year, millions of people get sick with the flu. Symptoms range from mild achiness and fatigue that lasts for days to feeling like you got hit by a truck for weeks on end. What’s more, the flu can cause severe illness and death.
One of the scary ways the flu operates is to make us vulnerable to secondary infections, including bacterial pneumonia, bronchitis, skin and tissue infection, and ear infections. These infections can be even worse than the flu itself and can, in and of themselves, cause hospitalization and death.
Flu prevention is important for not only avoiding symptoms and complications of the flu. It’s also about protecting those around you who might not be able to fight off the virus. Individuals over age 65, newborn babies, people with certain chronic illnesses, and others with compromised immune systems are all at greatest risk of complications related to the flu.
The best prevention against the flu is a vaccine and the best time to get it is as soon its available. Available as an injection, known as the flu shot, the current flu vaccine protects against the three or four strains of the virus that research suggests will be the most common in the upcoming flu season.
Vaccines are safe and have few side effects, the most common being headache, fever, nausea, and soreness, redness, or swelling at the injection site. If experienced at all, side effects are mild and go away on their own after a few days. It is important to note that the flu shot can NOT cause the flu.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone over the age of six months get a flu shot every flu season. Vaccination is particularly important for people who are at high risk of serious complications from the flu, including children. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that a flu vaccine be given annually to all children starting at six months of age. Children between the ages of 6 months and 8 years who are receiving their first flu vaccination may need two doses given at least four weeks apart. Children 9 years of age and older only need one dose.
Ultimately, there’s no bad time to get a flu shot. The important thing is to get one and do your part to protect yourself and others. For information on the availability of the flu vaccine, contact your primary care provider.
Marie George, MD, is an infectious disease specialist at SVMC Infectious Disease.