Flu 101: What You Should Know
During peak flu season from October to March, it’s important to be prepared. Getting the flu shot is one of the best ways you can protect yourself from this potentially deadly viral infection. While some may think the flu is just a bad cold, this is far from the truth, and you shouldn’t underestimate it. Anyone can catch seasonal flu, with its symptoms of terrible fatigue, achiness, and fever.
Fortunately, the flu can usually be prevented, and the flu shot is safe.
What Is the Flu?
Influenza – more commonly called the flu – is a contagious respiratory illness infecting the nose and throat, and sometimes the lungs. The symptoms may range from mild to severe, and even life-threatening. It’s especially dangerous for those who have health problems like diabetes or heart disease. Young children and older adults are at higher risk for the flu.
Symptoms of the flu include:
- Feeling extremely hot and/or getting the chills
- Sore throat
What Is the Difference Between the Flu vs. the Common Cold?
It’s easy to confuse the two, but a cold is milder than the flu. People infected with seasonal flu often have fevers, chills, cough, fatigue, achiness, and a headache. Less common symptoms are sneezing, sore throat, stuffiness, or stomach problems.
Is the Flu a Medical Emergency?
The flu may be deadly, but unfortunately, many think it’s not that serious. In fact, anywhere from 69,000 to 84,000 people are hospitalized from the flu in any given year, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CC).
Emergency warning signs of the flu include:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Sudden dizziness
- Persistent, severe vomiting
- Fever that doesn’t respond to medication
- Fever with rash
- Pain or pressure in the abdomen or chest
Should I Get the Flu Shot?
Yes. Anyone can get the flu, even healthy people. Advance ER recommends anyone over the age of 6 months should get the flu vaccine, including pregnant women and the elderly.
It’s especially important to get the flu shot because it protects more than just yourself. Even if you don’t have a high risk of flu, remember that anyone can get the flu, no matter how healthy they are. It’s important to get the flu shot if you’re around those who are at high risk, especially if you spend a lot of time around young children, the elderly, or those with chronic illness.
Who Is at Highest Risk of Getting the Flu?
Anyone can be infected with the flu, even healthy people. However, certain people have a higher risk of having a worse bout of illness than others, especially those with chronic health problems and/or a weakened immune system.
Those at the greatest risk from flu complications include:
- Young children between 6 months of age to 4 years
- Adults aged 65 and older
- Pregnant women
- Those with chronic illness, especially heart, lung, or kidney conditions
- Those with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS or those going through chemotherapy for cancer
What Should I Do If I’m at High Risk for the Flu?
First of all, make sure you get the flu shot. You can take additional steps to stay healthy, too, such as eating healthy, exercising regularly, sleeping 7-8 hours per night, and practicing good hygiene.
Does the Flu Shot Give You the Flu?
No, this is a common misconception. You may wonder why you’ve heard, then, that some people still get the flu after being vaccinated. Part of the reason is because the flu does not protect against all strains of the flu virus, and it is only about 50 to 65% effective. It also takes about 2 weeks for the body to formulate the necessary antibodies to protect against the flu.
How Does the Flu Spread?
The flu spreads by those who are infected through the spread of germs. When a person who has the flu coughs, sneezes, or even talks, they can spread infected droplets that can land on the mouths, noses, or eyes of others. People who have the flu are contagious and can infect others before they even develop symptoms, and up to a week after they get the flu.
What Is My Likelihood of Getting the Flu?
According to 2018 research on clinical infectious diseases conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on average, about 8% of the U.S. population contracts the flu in any given season, but this can be as high 11%, depending on the season.
How Serious Is the Flu?
The flu is unpredictable, and every year, its severity changes. There are many variables, too, that determine how ill you can get from being infected with the flu, such as the specific strain, and the effectiveness of the flu shot in any given year.
Do I Need the Flu Shot Every Year?
Yes. The flu shot is not like, say, a polio shot, in which you are protected for life. The vaccination is only effective for any particular season, because flu strains change from year to year. Every flu season, the vaccine is reformulated by immunologists and scientists who predict upcoming strains.
Who Shouldn’t Get the Flu Shot?
Most people are eligible to get the flu shot, unless they are infants under 6 months of age or have severe-life threatening allergies. There are certain rare exceptions for people who should not get the flu shot. For example, some people with egg allergies cannot get the flu shot, although most can. Those with a history of severe egg allergy can be vaccinated in a medical setting from a healthcare provider who can recognize and address severe reactions. Learn more about who should and who should notget the flu shot on the CDC website.
Are There Side Effects for the Flu Shot?
Most people have minimal to no side effects, and any physician will tell you the benefits outweigh the risks for the majority of healthy people. The flu shot could cause a swollen or sore bump at the injection site, which can last about 2 days. It should not be terribly debilitating. Some people may have a low-grade fever for about a day, but the flu shot does not cause the flu.
What Can I Do if I Get the Flu?
First of all, see your doctor to check if there are medications that might help. Prescription drugs called antivirals may be able to treat the flu, especially if you take them within 48 hours of developing symptoms. Antibiotics do not help you get over the flu, but they are sometimes prescribed if you have a secondary/bacterial infection (bacteria are different types of germs than viruses).
Learn More About the Flu
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- American Lung Association
- National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Contact us at Advance ER today by dialing (214) 494-8222 or simply walk in to our freestanding emergency room to get tested.