Ideally, the best time to get a flu shot is before flu season begins in October.
But, it’s still not too late to protect yourself before flu season hits its peak, which is typically closer to February, said Dr. Melissa Wahba, an emergency room physician at St. Joseph’s Hospital-North, in Lutz.
The most vulnerable populations are children under age 5, but especially under age 2; people over age 65; and, those with chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and pregnant women, Wahba said.
Protection is important, to avoid potentially tragic consequences of being infected by the virus, she said.
“Influenza can certainly be a deadly virus and even if it is not life-threatening to yourself, contracting it likely means you’re going to pass it on to someone else, and it could be someone who falls into one of those high-risk categories,” she said.
She continued: “So, making a choice of whether or not to be vaccinated is not really just reflective of impact on yourself. It will impact those around you.
“That’s especially true if you are taking care of any of the patients in those high-risk populations.”
Plus, she added: “Health care personnel, day care workers, people who are working in dialysis units — anyone who is working with those more vulnerable populations — they have an even greater responsibility to make sure that they’re being vaccinated.”
There’s a common misconception that someone can get the flu by getting a flu shot.
“That is not true,” the emergency department doctor said. “Patients can have side effects from the flu vaccine, but they’re extremely mild. Most commonly, they might have redness, soreness, tenderness or some swelling at the site of the injection. Fewer might actually get a low-grade fever, a headache, or feel a little bit achy.”
It’s also important to know that it takes two weeks from the time you get the shot for it to take its full effect.
“This year’s vaccine includes protection against Influenza A H1NI, Influenza A H3N2, and Influenza B, and certainly, we are by far seeing the most cases of H1NI,” the doctor said.
“The vaccine is targeted directly against that particular subtype of Influenza A. The vaccine itself seems to be right on par with what we’re seeing clinically,” Wahba said.
People sometimes say they have the flu, when they actually have a cold or a stomach virus, she said.
“Influenza is generally quite a bit worse than just a cold,” she said.
If you think you have the flu, it’s important to keep away from other people, she said.
In its early stages, a patient can go to urgent care, or use an App, to get medical attention.
When caught early enough, a doctor may be able to prescribe antiviral medication to help reduce the effects.
There are times, though, when patients need to go to the emergency department, the doctor said.
Adults should receive emergency care when:
- The patient is having difficulty breathing, or experiencing rapid, shallow breathing
- The patient isn’t able to drink
- The patient is experiencing chest pain, abdominal pain, or confusion
Babies and small children should receive emergency care when:
- A child cannot drink fluids; a baby cannot drink his or her bottle
- There’s a decrease in a child’s wet diapers
- There’s a decrease in tear production when a child is crying
She advises that patients pay close attention to their symptoms.
“Sometimes in the course of influenza, patients will have an improvement in their symptoms, and then they will actually get worsening of symptoms with fever and increased cough. Those patients should definitely come to the hospital. They could be developing one of the complications that we see with influenza,” Wahba said.
Even when the flu is not life-threatening, it still disrupts daily life, so the doctor recommends getting a flu shot to reduce the risk of becoming ill.
“Truthfully, as long as the virus is circulating, there is benefit to being immunized,” Wahba said.
“People who read this and go out and get vaccinated right away, will be protected before we hit peak season.”
Influenza (also known as flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness and, at times, can lead to death. Flu is different from a cold. Flu usually comes on suddenly. People who are sick with flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:
- Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (tiredness)
Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
*It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.
Reducing the impact
Antiviral treatment, prescribed by a doctor, works best when started soon after flu illness begins. When treatment is started within two days of becoming sick with flu symptoms, antiviral drugs can lessen fever and symptoms, and shorten the time you are sick. They also may reduce the risk of complications, such as ear infections in children, respiratory complications requiring antibiotics, and hospitalization in adults.
Source: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Help prevent the spread of flu
- Get vaccinated
- Wash your hands often, with soap and water (use an alcohol-based sanitizer if soap isn’t available)
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- If you get sick, stay home until you are fever-free for at least 24 hours (that is, your fever is gone for at least 24 hours without the assistance of a fever-reducing medication)
Source: The Florida Department of Health
Published January 23, 2019