You know it’s happening the second you feel the muscle aches and bone-numbing fatigue throughout your body. Then you feel a shiver, even though your forehead is beading with sweat—the flu. COVID-19 might still be at the top of everyone’s health risk radar, but influenza affects anywhere from five to 20 percent of the U.S. population every year, resulting in 31.4 million outpatient healthcare visits and tragically causing 58 percent of the deaths of adults over age 65. Fortunately, you can reduce your risk, since the best preventive measure that you can take to mitigate your risk of contracting the flu is to get a flu shot.
What is the Flu?
Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can affect the nose, throat, and sometimes lungs, resulting in mild to severe symptoms. In its most serious cases, it can result in death, particularly among immunocompromised individuals. Like COVID-19, the flu is an airborne illness that spreads from person to person through tiny droplets created by coughing, sneezing, or talking. The virus can spread to others up to six feet away. You are most contagious when you have the flu within the first three to four days.
Flu symptoms can come on rapidly and often include:
- Fever or chills
- Muscle or body aches
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffed nose
- Vomiting and diarrhea (typically more common in children)
In most cases, recovery takes anywhere from a few days to less than two weeks. In more severe cases, however, particularly for children, seniors, and immunocompromised adults, the flu can evolve into a more dangerous condition, such as pneumonia.
How Does the Flu Shot Work?
Myth: If you get the flu vaccine, you will get influenza. This misconception is the reason many people cite for not protecting themselves by getting the flu vaccine each year. You may even know someone who will tell you that they had flu symptoms after getting the vaccine; however, the reason for such symptoms may include:
- A slight reaction to the vaccine that includes temporary muscle aches and fever
- Exposure to the flu before the vaccine can take effect—which takes two weeks
- Experiencing symptoms of another illness, such as a cold
How Effective is the Flu Shot?
There are several influenza virus strains. Each year, doctors and scientists create the year’s vaccine based on the strain that they anticipate being most prevalent. If you obtain the flu vaccine but are exposed to an alternate strain, you may still get the flu. This challenge of protecting the population from every possible flu strain is part of the reason why some people continue to spread the misunderstanding that getting the flu vaccine will not protect you from getting sick. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “recent studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40 and 60 percent among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the flu vaccine.”
When Should I Get the Flu Vaccine?
Flu season is approaching rapidly. As you remain hypervigilant about the risk of COVID-19, do not forget to get your flu shot. Flu season happens from fall to winter, with peak activity between December and February, though it can last until May. Healthcare providers recommend obtaining the flu vaccine by late October to ensure you are protected for the vast majority of the season. If you are still uncertain about getting the flu vaccine, know that by obtaining a vaccination, you not only protect yourself, but you protect the friends and loved ones around you who are susceptible to virus spread if you get sick.
How to Get a Flu Shot
To protect yourself against the flu this year, make a same-day appointment or walk into a Nova Health clinic to obtain a flu shot. Find a location near you.