Our New England weather has turned cooler over the past few days, reminding us that summer is coming to a close and winter is only a few months away. Soon the leaves will change into brilliant hues of yellow, orange, and red, followed by our first frost, our first snowfall, and then the start of influenza (flu) season.
Flu season usually reaches peak activity during January, February and March, but sometimes arrives as early as December. Some important reminders about influenza:
What is the flu?
Influenza, or the flu, is a contagious viral infection. Typical symptoms of the flu include a fever (100-103F) for three to five days, shaking chills, diffuse muscle aches, and fatigue. A sore throat, cough, and runny nose may develop. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may also sometimes occur.
How long does the flu last?
Typically, symptoms last for one to two weeks, but recovery may be slow. It is not uncommon to feel unwell for up to three to four weeks.
Why all the fuss over the flu?
While most people have a self-resolving illness, potential complications include pneumonia, dehydration, or an exacerbation of an underlying medical condition such as asthma, diabetes, congestive heart failure, or kidney disease, and in rare instances, death.
Who should get the flu shot?
Everyone older than 6 months. Young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with chronic illness are most vulnerable. Please check with your physician first if you have a fever or a severe egg allergy.
Why should I get a flu shot?
When you receive the flu vaccine, you are not only protecting yourself, but you are also protecting your family members, friends, colleagues, and other members of your community.
Does the flu shot work?
The quadrivalent flu vaccine offers protection against two strains of influenza A and two strains of influenza B. When the vaccine’s strains match those circulating in the community, the vaccine provides protection. Last year’s flu shot did not match all of the circulating strains, so people were still susceptible to the flu. Despite the lack of a perfect match, the flu shot still offered some protection and is therefore worthwhile.
Will the flu shot give me the flu?
No. You cannot get the flu from the flu shot. This type of vaccine contains an inactivated virus which is dead and cannot cause the flu. Frequently, the “flu” that people develop after receiving the vaccine is another viral upper respiratory infection, but it is not influenza. Remember, the flu shot is administered during the fall and winter months. This coincides with the peak season of the common cold. For those of you who develop an actual case of influenza shortly after the flu shot, you were going to get the flu anyways. The flu vaccine takes approximately 10 to 14 days to “kick in” before it starts to provide you with protection.
How do I get the vaccine?
You may contact your physician’s office to inquire about receiving the vaccine. Many local pharmacies and some community centers offer the flu vaccine as well.
Wishing you a happy, healthy, and flu-free winter!
Brad Weiner, MD
This blog is for informational purposes only. It does not replace medical care from a licensed physician. Please contact your doctor if you have any questions or concerns.