The best way to avoid the flu? Get a flu shot. There are other steps you can take, of course, like washing your hands, staying away from people who are sick, eating right and getting plenty of rest. But the best way to protect yourself and your family is to get a flu shot.
What Is the Flu and How Does It Spread?
“Influenza, or the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness that typically enters the body through the respiratory system; entering the body through the nose, throat or lungs. It can be very mild or it can progress to a serious illness — even death,” said Steven Hall, MD, Mountain View Family Medicine.
“People with the flu are typically the most contagious in the first three to four days of becoming symptomatic,” Dr. Hall said, noting that one of the best ways to avoid getting the flu is to limit contact or exposure to those who are infected.
Why Do I Need a Flu Shot Every Year?
Anywhere from one in five to one in 20 in the U.S. get the flu each year. “Flu season” starts as early as October and typically extends through May. Flu viruses continually change, and the flu vaccine is updated annually in anticipation of those changes – that’s why you need an annual flu shot. The flu vaccine takes about two weeks to take effect and provides protection for up to a year. You cannot get the flu from a flu shot.
“The single most important way to prevent the flu is to get the flu vaccine. Getting the flu vaccine can decrease your number of doctor’s office visits and missed days at school or work,” Dr. Hall said. He recommends that anyone six months and older should get the flu vaccine, which supports what is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.
Some people should not get a flu vaccination, such as those who have had severe allergic reactions to the vaccine in the past. Talk to your healthcare provider to determine if there is a reason you should not receive the vaccine.
The flu usually starts abruptly, with fever, muscle aches, sore throat, and a cough. Flu typically lasts from one to two weeks and can range from a mild case to being life-threatening, especially among older adults or those with chronic diseases.
Is It a Cold or Is It the Flu?
A common cold will subside after a few days, while flu symptoms may persist for several weeks. Flu symptoms include a sudden onset of:
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Sore throat
- Muscle aches
- Headache and/or body aches
- Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children)
What Should I Do if I Get the Flu?
If you do get sick with the flu, antiviral drugs are a treatment option. They are different than antibiotics, which fight bacterial infections, not viruses. Antiviral drugs are not a substitute for getting the vaccine and should be considered a second line of defense after you have gotten your flu shot.
The Best Advice This Flu Season?
Follow the CDC’s recommendation to “Take Three”:
1. Take time to get a flu vaccination.
2. Take simple everyday actions (like hand washing and covering your mouth) to stop the spread of germs.
3. Take antiviral medications if your doctor prescribes them.
Other Tips to Prevent the Spread of Influenza
- Wash your hands often with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose or mouth as you go through your day.
- Influenza is a virus and does not respond to antibiotics. However, your doctor may prescribe anti-viral drugs, which can make the illness milder and shorten the time you are sick.
- If you are sick with flu-like illness, the Centers for Disease Control recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after you are fever-free without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.
- In addition to a flu vaccination, hand washing, and other preventive actions, make sure you are eating nutritious foods, drinking plenty of fluids, and getting adequate rest