Prevent the flu

With flu season ramping up, now is the time to get your shot to prevent a flu infection.

Flu season often peaks as early as mid-December and can last well into May. During the winter months, cold rainy weather leads to people congregating more closely together and staying indoors. That can lead to spreading germs and the flu.

Here are answers to some of the most common questions about the flu.

What is the flu?

Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a highly contagious viral infection that spreads through the respiratory tract. Many of the symptoms, like a sore throat and cough, are similar to the common cold but generally more severe. The flu also often causes a high fever, body aches and chills, and fatigue.

How can I avoid or reduce the severity of the flu?

The most effective step you can take to avoid the flu is to get your flu shot. While the vaccine doesn’t prevent every strain of the flu because the virus is constantly changing, it can help reduce the severity of flu symptoms and prevent the flu in many cases. It is too early to predict the effectiveness of this year’s flu shot, however, a vaccine on average has a 40 percent to 60 percent probability to protect against the flu.

Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, using hand sanitizers and disinfecting frequently touched objects (like door handles and desks) throughout the day are also important steps to preventing the spread of illnesses.

Why do I need a flu shot?

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention determined that the flu causes 31.4 million outpatient visits and more than $87 billion in total economic burden each year in the U.S. In 2017 alone, there were more than 80,000 deaths and 900,000 hospitalizations due to the flu.

Some populations, such as young babies, pregnant women and older adults, are more vulnerable to the flu than others. So you may not be as affected by it, but those around you could suffer greatly. 

When should I get my flu shot?

Since 95 percent of flu infections don’t start until mid-December, now is the optimal time to get the flu shot.  

Can you get sick from the flu shot?

There are a few popular flu-related misconceptions. 

Some believed the flu vaccine causes the flu and other infections or that the flu vaccine is not effective for the entire season. To the contrary, the vaccine neither causes the flu nor exacerbates flu-like symptoms, and a typical flu shot does last for the entire season (and sometimes even longer).

Others claim it’s too early or late to get the flu shot or that you cannot die from the flu. With the peak of winter ahead of us, right now is neither too late nor early to get the vaccine. And sadly, we have already seen a number of flu-related deaths this season. 

Last year was a bad flu season. This year, the East Bay is already seeing a shortage of the high-dose influenza vaccine for older adults. Thus, it is recommended to get the vaccine now to protect yourself against flu illness. 

For more information on the flu shot, visit https://goo.gl/HuZrU4.

– Robert Eidus, MD,Family Medicine at John Muir Health

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