The CDC recommends you be vaccinated for influenza as soon as flu vaccine becomes available. Flu seasons are highly unpredictable and can begin as early as September or October. It takes about two weeks after the vaccination for antibodies to develop to protect you against flu. Although getting the vaccine now will help protect you if flu season comes early, it’s never too late to receive a vaccine.
Influenza, or flu as it is commonly called, is a contagious virus. Symptoms of the flu include fever, chills, sore throat, muscle aches, fatigue, cough, headache and runny or stuffy nose. For most people symptoms will last several days and may be mistaken for a common cold. But for young children, seniors and pregnant women or those with chronic diseases, it can be much worse and can lead to pneumonia. In young children it can also cause diarrhea and seizures from a high fever. Every year thousands of Americans die of influenza.
Infants under 6 months of age cannot be vaccinated, so it’s very important that other family members get vaccinated to help prevent the spread of the virus to those most vulnerable (including the elderly and those with compromised immune systems).
For those older than 2 years and up to age 49 there is a nasal spray vaccine available called LAIV: live, attenuated (weakened) influenza vaccine. Children between 6 months and 2 years and adults over 50 must receive an inactive vaccine given by injection.
Is it flu or just a cold?
The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. Because they have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference based on symptoms alone. In general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and flu symptoms such as fever, body aches, extreme tiredness, and dry cough are more common and intense. Colds are usually milder than the flu and people with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations.
If you experience flu or cold symptoms, take action to stop the spread of germs. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and throw the tissue away after it has been used, or cough/sneeze into your arm. Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available. Antiviral drugs prescribed by your health care provider can make flu symptoms milder and can shorten the duration of the illness but they need to be started within the first 2 days of symptoms. While you’re sick, limit your contact with others as much as possible and stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone.
To learn more ask your health care provider, contact the Washington State Dept. of Health (www.doh.wa.gov) or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (www.cdc.gov).