Fall is here and that means the flu season is around the corner. Huntington Health Physician’s Stuart Miller, MD, recently shared the five most common questions his patients ask him about the flu.
1.) What is the difference between the flu versus a cold? Flu and common colds are both respiratory illnesses, but caused by different viruses. They can have some of the same symptoms and this makes it difficult to differentiate at times. Usually flu symptoms are more intense and come on suddenly. Colds usually present with a runny / stuffy nose. Colds usually do not progress into more serious health conditions. Flu can have serious complications and progress into sinus and ear infections, pneumonia, and other infections that may even need hospitalization. Flu symptoms typically include feverishness, cough, sore throat, muscle / body aches, headache, fatigue, and the runny / stuffy nose.
2.) Who should get the flu shot? Annual influenza vaccination is recommended for all people six months and older who have no contraindications, which are people with severe allergies to the flu vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine. It is especially important to get the flu shot if you are in a high risk group. This includes young children, adults older than 50 years old, people who are immunocompromised (due to medications, HIV, etc.), pregnant or will become pregnant during the flu season, residents in nursing or long-term care facilities and those with serious health conditions. Please check with you physician if you have any concerns.
3.) When should I get the flu shot? It is best to get the flu shot by the end of October. That said, it’s never too late to get the vaccination as long as the influenza viruses are circulating, usually through March. The flu season in the United States peaks between December and February. After being vaccinated, the body responds by producing antibodies and protection starts in a couple weeks.
4.) Many vaccines last multiple years. Why do I need to get a flu shot every year? You need to get an annual flu shot for a couple reasons. New flu vaccines are produced every year to try to keep up with the rapidly changing strain of the flu viruses. Also, when you get vaccinated, your immune system forms antibodies against the viruses included in the vaccine. But the antibody levels decline over time. Thus, protection from the vaccine persist for at least six months, but declines over time because of waning antibody and changes in the current influenza viruses.
5.) Will the flu shot make me sick? There is a myth that the flu shot will give you the flu. However, it is common to feel soreness (even redness or tenderness), or develop mild body aches or feverishness for one to two days after being vaccinated. That is your immune response, not the flu illness.
Huntington Hospital is here to help! Beginning late September, we will be offering free flu shot clinics throughout the community. Also, flu shots are available at Exer Urgent Care Pasadena and La Canada (call offices for prices and details).