Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is a respiratory illness that can cause serious complications and lead to hospitalization or even death. Although well-known throughout the country, this infection is often underestimated, with only 47 percent of Americans getting a flu vaccine during the 2016-2017 flu season. Meanwhile, an estimated 80,000 Americans died of the flu and its complications last winter — the highest death toll in at least four decades.
What steps can you take to avoid catching or spreading this deadly virus? Learn more about the importance of the flu vaccination, as well as what to do if you or a family member catches the flu:
Have you gotten your flu shot?
Getting a flu vaccination both reduces your risk of getting the virus and can reduce the severity of your symptoms if you do contract the flu. Getting your flu shot can be a family affair, as most people six months and older get the flu vaccine each year. Getting your shot not only helps protect you, but will also protect the more vulnerable people around you. It’s critical you get the vaccine if you have family members or are frequently around infants, elderly and sick people, as these groups are most susceptible to serious flu complications.
Dr. Lauren Bessey, a family practice physician with Spira Care Olathe, recommends getting a flu shot as soon as possible. “Influenza outbreaks tend to rise in our area during November and December and last until approximately April,” she says.
Each year, researchers predict which influenza viruses will be the most prevalent and then include protection against those strains in the vaccine. Dr. Bessey suggests talking with your primary care provider to set up a time for you and the whole family to get vaccinated. If you have a Spira Care plan, you can set up an appointment at SpiraCare.com.
A common myth around the vaccine is that it can actually cause the flu itself. This is not true. The vaccine doesn’t involve a live virus. As your body mounts its immune response, the vaccine may cause body aches and low-grade fever lasting 24-48 hours, which randomized, blinded studies have shown to be universal whether receiving the shot or a placebo. This is a minor inconvenience in comparison to the burden and possible complications of a true influenza infection.
You caught the flu, now what?
If you or a family member does contract the flu, you’re likely in for a few days of bothersome symptoms. Unlike a common cold, flu symptoms usually come on suddenly and may include a fever. You might also have:
- Severe aches in muscles and joints
- Pain and tiredness around your eyes
- Weakness or extreme fatigue
- Warm, flushed skin and red, watery eyes
- A headache
- A dry cough
- A sore throat and runny nose
In most cases, the best way to treat the flu is to rest at home, drink plenty of fluids and avoid contact with other people. However, if your symptoms are severe or you have other medical conditions, you might need treatment with prescription medications called antiviral drugs, such as Tamiflu, Rapivab and Relenza.
The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has also recently approved the first new flu drug in 20 years. Xofluza helps alleviate symptoms of a flu infection and it’s expected to work against drug-resistant strains.
Influenza is a dangerous infection, but it can be prevented by a single vaccine often available at no cost to you through insurance at your local pharmacy. Remember that getting the flu vaccine not only protects you, but it can protect those around you with weaker immune systems and those too young to be vaccinated. Making this smart healthcare choice for you and your family helps maintain the health of your whole community.