Beat the Flu with a Flu Shot

Beat the Flu with a Flu Shot

It’s that time of year again — the end of a hot Oklahoma summer and the move to cooler temperatures. But it’s not just the cooler weather that makes an entrance this time of year — so does the dreaded cold and flu season.

Influenza, commonly called the flu, is a viral respiratory illness causing symptoms that can make you very sick. Symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Cold sweats
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion
  • Runny or blocked nose
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Sneezing

While a cold has similar symptoms such as a runny nose, sneezing, and congestion, the flu can be very severe. In fact, it can be life-threatening, especially for the elderly, the very young, or those with compromised or weakened immunity systems. Even for the healthy, the flu can be miserable.

The common cold can be caused by different viruses, including parainfluenza, rhinoviruses, and seasonal coronaviruses, whereas the flu is caused by influenza viruses only.

How Contagious is the Flu?

The flu is a highly contagious virus with adults able to spread it one day before they have any symptoms, and up to seven days after their first symptoms. It’s usually spread via an infected person coughing, sneezing, or even talking, with the first 3-4 days as the most contagious.

When a person is exposed to and infected with the flu, it will usually take about two days for symptoms to begin, but it can range between 1-4 days.

The CDC reports that between 3-11% of the population of the U.S. gets infected and develops flu symptoms every year, but the number could be much higher. The figures are based only on those who are tested or seek medical treatment. In the U.S., over 300,000 people are hospitalized and up to 50,000 die each year because of the flu.

How to Prevent the Flu

Anyone who has been in contact with an infected person can get the flu, and complications from the virus can affect any age. Some of the complications include:

  • Bacterial pneumonia
  • Sinus infection
  • Ear infection
  • Worsening of chronic conditions including asthma and respiratory conditions, diabetes or congestive heart failure
  • Death

The single best way to avoid complications is to not get the flu, and the most important step in flu prevention is to get a yearly flu vaccine. Flu vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of complications from the flu, including hospitalization and death, and the vaccine reduces flu related illnesses.

Taking simple precautions such as staying away from sick people, covering sneezes and coughs, and practicing good hand hygiene can also help prevent the flu.

Why is the Flu Vaccine So Important?

The flu vaccine can lower the risk of flu infection, and it can also lower the risk of complications, hospitalization, and serious illness from the flu.

When a person is vaccinated, their immune system will make antibodies that protect from viruses included in the vaccine, but over time, antibody levels decline.

Flu viruses adapt and change quickly, so the vaccine from last year may not offer protection from this year’s viruses. To keep on top of rapidly changing flu viruses, new flu vaccines are released every year and provide more protection.

It takes about two weeks for the flu shot to take effect, so it’s vital to get the vaccine as early in the season as possible and avoid contact with infected persons. Each flu season is different from the one before, with each season differing in severity.

Vaccination doesn’t just protect you from the flu, it also protects your family and community.

Who Should Receive the Flu Vaccine?

The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months or older receive the annual flu vaccine. People at high risk of flu complications are urged to receive the flu shot. Those at high-risk of flu complications include:

  • Adults over 50 years
  • Children under 2 years
  • Pregnant women, or those planning a pregnancy
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • American Indians or Native Alaskans
  • Nursing home residents
  • Residents of long-term care facilities
  • People with chronic disease including asthma, heart disease, liver disease, diabetes or kidney disease
  • People with a BMI 40 or higher
  • People taking aspirin or salicylate-containing medication, between ages 6 months and 18 years

The flu vaccine is a fast and effective measure against the flu and its complications.

“For me, receiving the flu vaccine is about more than just protecting myself, it is about protecting my loved ones, my patients, and my community,” said Lyndsey Jones, M.D., Internal Medicine physician at OU Health. “I know I am doing my part when I show up to get vaccinated.”

Schedule Your Flu Shot Today

Get ahead of cold and flu season and see your OU Health primary care physician today to get your flu shot.

Find a family medicine or primary care provider near your home or work.