Feeling as if you’ve been hit by a truck? Oops! It’s flu season and you forgot to get your flu shot! Don’t worry, you’re not alone. People have the option of getting a vaccine or nasal spray to build their immunity against various strains of influenza viruses. However, many people end up getting sick with influenza, commonly called the flu, if they forgot to get immunized ahead of the flu season.
Your best bet to keep from falling ill is to get your shot way ahead of time. This will build your body’s immunity to fight the virus, prevent those dreadful flu symptoms, and protect those close to you.
What is Influenza?
Influenza is caused by a viral infection and is not the same as the common cold, although a cough and cold may follow after the virus attacks. The virus does not discriminate. It infects anyone from babies to senior adults. It may come in different strains each year, so one vaccination cannot cover you or your loved one for a lifetime.
This is why children and adults should get vaccinated every year before the flu season begins. “Flu season” refers to that time of each year when influenza outbreaks are most prevalent. It can start as early as September and last through late May.
The season coincides with the cold half of the year in geographic locations that experience winter or cold weather. A high rate of school absences and employee sick days are recorded during this time of year.
The Flu Vaccine and When to Get Vaccinated
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), influenza vaccines or flu jabs are developed to protect the population from infection by the influenza viruses. Since influenza viruses change rapidly, new versions of the vaccines are released twice a year to protect against the same flu viruses or strains related to the viruses in the vaccine.
Everyone age 6 months and older, including pregnant and breastfeeding women, should get their flu shot ahead of the flu season. The CDC recommends doing so by the end of October the latest.
Influenza is typically not a serious health condition. It attacks the respiratory system (the nose, throat, and lungs) and usually goes away on its own. However, it can cause complications or even death for people in a certain risk group. They include:
• Infants under 12 months of age
• Children younger than age 5
• Adults older than age 65
• Pregnant and newly postpartum women
• People with weak or compromised immune systems
• Individuals living in nursing homes or a long-term care facility
• Persons with chronic illnesses, e.g., asthma, diabetes, or heart disease
Common Flu Symptoms
Unlike the common cold, the flu comes on suddenly with initial symptoms such as an itchy throat, runny nose, and sneezing. It is possible that you feel weird as if your body was hit by a boulder. Getting vaccinated can help protect you from one or more of the following common flu symptoms:
• Muscle aches
• Sore throat
• Chills and sweats
• Nasal congestion
• Fatigue and weakness
• Persistent or dry cough
• Fever over 100.4 F (38 C)
Why Getting the Flu Shot is Important
The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for anyone 6 months or older, even if the viruses the vaccine protects against remain the same from the previous season. This may be the only way to get the “optimal” or best protection against influenza.
Both three-component (trivalent) and four-component (quadrivalent) flu vaccines will be available for the 2019-2020 flu season. People who are at a higher risk of contracting the virus and developing complications should ensure they do not miss their shot.
The seasonal flu shot protects against the human influenza viruses types A and B responsible for causing seasonal influenza epidemics almost every winter in the US. Immunizing against the flu is one of the best ways to save yourself from getting ill or passing the virus to family members, especially babies and young children.
Severe symptoms can keep your child away from school, prevent you from going to work, or cause hospitalizations. A 2017 study found that flu vaccination reduced the severity of the illness, hospitalizations, hospital stays, and deaths among flu patients.
Where to Get the Flu Shot
Vaccines for the seasonal flu are usually available at your doctor’s office, hospitals, clinics, schools, health centers, or your neighborhood pharmacy. Many health insurance plans cover the vaccine cost. Even if you have to pay out out pocket, you can feel at ease knowing you’ve protected yourself and family.
However, it is recommended that you talk to your doctor before receiving the vaccine as some vaccines should not be given to certain groups of people. They include infants under 6 months of age and people with egg allergy.
Do People Get Influenza After Getting the Flu Vaccine?
A flu vaccine generally works best for healthy older children and younger adults, according to the CDC. Older or senior adults and people who have certain chronic illnesses may not develop the right level of immunity after vaccination.
Even though it may be the best defense against the flu, keep in mind that the influenza vaccine is not 100 percent effective. In fact, a person can still contract a flu virus after getting a flu vaccine designed to protect them against that same virus.
Furthermore, an individual can get the flu if they were exposed to influenza viruses shortly before receiving the vaccine. This happens because it can take the body about two weeks after vaccination to develop immune protection.
In other cases, a person may get infected by a flu virus that is not included in the flu vaccine developed for that particular flu season.
Get a Jump-start on influenza!
As you can see, there are many benefits of getting vaccinated. Flu vaccines can be a life-saver for children and other people who are at a greater risk of health complication or death. Therefore, the best thing a person can do is to take a preemptive strike against the flu and get vaccinated as early August.
Vaccines are usually available throughout the entire flu season and all the way into January or later. Note that getting your flu shot too early can reduce the effectiveness of the vaccine. But remember to talk to your doctor or your child’s pediatrician before immunization.
On a final note, people who miss their flu shot and get sick can always treat themselves at home. However, call your doctor right away if you or your child are at risk of complications from flu symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs to help you get better faster.