Each year the dreaded flu makes headlines and threatens chills, aches, coughing and sneezing. But it's pretty easy to avoid becoming a victim – get a flu shot.
Maiko Ebersole-Robinson, MD, medical director of Sprint Center Urgent Care, explains that while the flu vaccine is not foolproof, it's an excellent way to prevent getting the flu or reducing the symptoms if you do catch the bug.
"The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated," she says. The flu is a respiratory illness spread through airborne germs, which are delivered by coughs and sneezes. While serious illness can result, the majority of people experience achiness, cold symptoms and other discomforts.
Each year, epidemiology experts determine the global patterns of influenza and which vaccines will be most effective.
Dr. Ebersole-Robinson recommends getting the vaccine by the end of October, even though flu season typically runs from December to February. "It's best to get it before peak season hits," she says. "When people around you are already getting sick, it's too late. It takes approximately 2 weeks for your body to build up immunity."
Who should be vaccinated?
Dr. Ebersole-Robinson recommends everyone over the age of 6 months receive a flu shot. And with a variety of delivery methods, it doesn't have to be a shot – it could be a nasal spray or intradermal patch.
It may be hard to imagine, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates as many as 49,000 deaths have been attributed to flu seasons. Some groups of people are at an especially high risk for serious complications, including:
- Children younger than 5
- Adults over 65
- Pregnant women
- People who are morbidly obese
- People with asthma, weakened immune systems or chronic conditions
"Everybody should be vaccinated, even if you're not in a high-risk group," says Dr. Ebersole-Robinson. "Get it simply to protect others around you, including your children, friends and family members. If you're a caregiver for people in high-risk groups, it's especially important to avoid spreading flu germs to them."
Dr. Ebersole-Robinson offers more advice to avoid the flu.
- Get a flu shot each year. The strains of the flu change annually, so last year's flu shot might not be as effective against this year's version of the flu. Your immunity against the flu also declines over time, leaving you defenseless after a year.
- If it's still early in flu season, a vaccination may still protect you for the rest of the season. And since global travel is so common, flu season is often year-round.
- Getting a flu shot won't give you the flu. But it does cause your immune system to build up antibodies against the flu. So don't be alarmed if you experience a few minor flu symptoms after you receive your shot. Those symptoms are much milder than the actual flu.