Q: I’ve been hearing so much about the flu lately. Is it too late to get a flu shot? I just never had the time this year.
A: It’s never too late. In fact, we had a late uptick in the flu last year, which lasted until April. Just remember that it takes about two weeks after being vaccinated for antibodies to develop in your body to protect you from the flu
Q: I did get a flu shot last year; do I really need another?
A: Yes, the vaccine loses its effectiveness over time. In addition to that, the influenza virus changes, or mutates, as we say, each year, and you need immunity from the strains predicted to most likely cause the latest outbreak.
Q: Do you still recommend getting a flu shot even though the vaccine has been particularly ineffective this year?
A: Yes. Getting vaccinated doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t get the flu; it’s about reducing your risk and limiting your symptoms should you get the flu. It’s still your best defense.
Q: Why do so many people say they get the flu after receiving the shot?
A: First of all, the vaccine is made from an inactivated virus that cannot transmit the infection to you. And those who do get sick shortly after receiving the vaccination were already exposed to the flu before the antibodies took effect.
Q: How do you know if you have the flu or just a cold?
A: Common flu symptoms include fever — but not everyone with the flu will have a fever — cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting. One big differentiation between the flu and a cold is that flu symptoms are usually more severe than cold symptoms and come on very quickly.
Q: How serious is the flu? I’m pretty healthy.
A: The flu is nothing to take lightly, and people still die from its complications. In the U.S. alone, some 36,000 people die each flu season, and more than 200,000 are hospitalized with severe, often life-threatening complications. It’s especially important for older adults and people with underlying health conditions such as cancer, emphysema, and HIV to be vaccinated since we know they have greater risk of serious complications from the flu.
The most important complication that can affect both high-risk adults and children is pneumonia. The flu can also aggravate and worsen chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and asthma.
Q: When should I call the doctor?
A: You should call your doctor if you have an underlying serious illness, as you are more likely to have a complication and may benefit from an antiviral medication. However, the medication needs to be started within 48 hours of the initial flu symptoms.
Q: I heard there is a special vaccine for the elderly. Is that true?
A: I don’t know how old you are, but as we age, our immune system becomes weaker, and during the flu season it is often those people 65 years and older who are most seriously affected by the flu. To address that fact, there is a high-dose vaccine designed especially for adults age 65 and older. It contains four times the amount of antigen as the regular flu shot and is associated with a stronger immune response following vaccination.
Q: My daughter just had a baby. Should her new bundle of joy be vaccinated?
A: Children need to be at least 6 months of age to receive the flu vaccine.
Q: How else can I protect myself from the flu?
A: In addition to getting the flu vaccine, you should stay away from those with the virus, wash your hands with soap and water, and cover your mouth when coughing or your nose when sneezing to prevent passing the flu to others.