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What to Do About the Flu

If you’re thinking about skipping this year’s flu shot, consider this: arming yourself against the flu may help reduce the overall risk to your family, friends, and others in your community. If you have young children, elderly family members, or come in contact with people who have asthma, diabetes, COPD, cancer, heart disease, or other

If you’re thinking about skipping this year’s flu shot, consider this: arming yourself against the flu may help reduce the overall risk to your family, friends, and others in your community. If you have young children, elderly family members, or come in contact with people who have asthma, diabetes, COPD, cancer, heart disease, or other conditions that compromise the immune system, you can help protect them by getting vaccinated.

Each year, the flu causes millions of illnesses, hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and tens of thousands of deaths in the U.S. Many of those impacted are under the age of two or 65 years and older. But even healthy children and younger adults can submit to severe disease or die from the flu.

When more people are vaccinated, there are fewer opportunities for the virus to survive and circulate in your household, school, office, and community. Here are a few more things you should know:

The time to get vaccinated is now! Flu season can begin as early as October and may stretch until May. Typically, the greatest concentration of cases in the U.S. occurs from December through February. Gatherings and shopping during the holiday season provide opportunities for the virus to spread. It’s ideal to be vaccinated by the end of October to give your body two weeks to develop full immunity.

Immunization for the current strains of the flu is necessary every year. The best time is early in October, but it’s never too late to receive the vaccine during flu season. Any immunity you developed through last year’s strain tapers over time. This season’s vaccine is formulated to provide immunization from the current prevalent strain of flu virus. To ensure your safety, vaccinations are thoroughly tested before they are issued. The World Health Organization and the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) both study and track the various strains of flu and the impact in different regions of the world.

Because the flu shot is inactive, it will not give you the flu. Some people experience temporary soreness or redness at the injection site, and/or fever or aches that are minor in comparison to active flu symptoms. Mild reactions show that your body is forming antibodies which will help protect you from the flu.

Flu symptoms can range from days to weeks. Typical symptoms include body aches and a fever that may reach 103ᵒF. You may experience headache, fatigue, nasal congestion, dry cough, or difficulty breathing. In most cases, you can expect to miss at least two days of work or school due to the flu. This time off could stretch to two weeks or potentially require admission to the hospital with complications. A flu vaccination may make your illness milder if you do get sick with influenza.

If you’re sick, stay home. If you suspect that you have the flu, be considerate of others and stay at home until your fever has been gone for at least 24 hours. Be sure to drink lots of liquids, which will help thin the mucous that is congesting your nose and lungs. You can take ibuprofen for the muscle aches, if you do not have kidney disease. Acetaminophen can be a good alternative, unless your liver is compromised.

If you are severely sick by day two, or you are a person who is prone to infections, contact your doctor. In some cases, an anti-viral treatment called Tamiflu is prescribed to reduce the symptoms and duration of the flu, and to help prevent complications. This treatment must be given within 72 hours of the first symptoms to be effective. Any time you are unsure, or if you are running a high fever — 100.4°F for children and 101°F for adults — it’s better to err on the side of caution and contact your doctor regarding the appropriate care.

Contact your family doctor about this year’s flu vaccine. It’s a good opportunity to make sure you are current with other screenings and immunizations, too. If you don’t have a family doctor, look for local events or clinics offering the flu vaccine. You can help protect our community’s most vulnerable citizens by receiving a flu shot this year.

Dr. Rutul Dalal is medical director of infectious diseases and chairman of Infection Prevention and Control at UPMC Susquehanna. He is a Fellow of the American College of Physicians and the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

What to Do About the Flu
By Rutul Dalal, MD, FACP, FIDSA
Medical Director, Infectious Disease
UPMC Susquehanna

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