Note, October 2020: This year, getting your flu shot is more important than ever! Not only will it help protect you from the flu, it will help minimize the unnecessary worry caused by "symptom confusion" among respiratory diseases.
For the flu, for coronavirus and for other respiratory illnesses, the best way to prevent the illness is to prevent exposure. Carilion Clinic’s Infectious Disease experts strongly recommend that everyone:
- Stay home whenever possible.
- Avoid crowds and enclosed spaces if you must go out.
- Wash your hands, keep your distance and wear a mask—every time.
The fall is known for its crisp weather and rich colors. However, it is also the beginning of the flu season.
Every year, up to 20 percent of U.S. residents get the flu, and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized because of it. While the statistics can seem intimidating, knowing about the facts, the symptoms and the vaccination can help you and your family to best prepare for this year’s flu season.
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It spreads when a person with the flu coughs, sneezes or talks, causing droplets containing their germs to land in someone else’s mouth or nose. The virus can also live on surfaces and spread when someone touches it and then touches their own mouth, eyes or nose.
Children younger than 5 years old, adults of 65 years or older, and pregnant women have the highest risk for developing flu-related illness.
Flu symptoms include:
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Body aches
- Vomiting and diarrhea—sometimes
These symptoms can last one to two weeks.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people with the flu may infect others starting one day before symptoms begin until five to seven days after being sick. Children and people with weakened immune systems, however, can have the virus present in their body for longer periods of time and are more prone to being contagious even after being sick.
While it typically peaks in January or February, flu activity starts in October. The best protection against it is the flu vaccine. Because it may take about two weeks for the vaccination to start protecting against the flu, individuals are encouraged to get it as soon as possible.
Additionally, infants and young children who have not had the flu vaccine in the past, need two doses of flu vaccine one month apart for maximum protection. Under the Affordable Care Act, many insurers are required to cover preventive services like the flu vaccine at no cost to the individual.
The vaccine is recommended for everyone 6 months and older. Caregivers of young infants are always advised to get the vaccine, but especially when around children who are under 6 months or children who have health problems that make them more vulnerable.
It is also important to note that the flu vaccine cannot cause the flu.
In preparation for this year’s flu season, the CDC recommends precautions to take in addition to getting the vaccine:
- Cough and sneeze into your elbow instead of into the air or onto surfaces
- Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue
- Throw tissues in the trash after using them
- Wash your hands often and with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
- If someone in your household is sick, try to keep them in a separate room if possible
- Keep surfaces like bedside tables, bathroom surfaces, kitchen counters and toys for children clean by wiping them down with a household disinfectant
Do not let the flu get in your way this season.
Schedule your flu shot today through one of Carilion’s Family Medicine locations or walk in to any of our VelocityCare or Carilion Clinic Pharmacy locations. Stay healthy this season and be sure to get your flu shot!
Jeremy A. Llavore, M.D., is a Carilion Clinic Family Medicine physician based in Boones Mill, Va. Learn more about where Dr. Llavore went to medical school and where you can find him when he's not caring for patients.