Return To Blog

Flu Season: Everything You Need to Know

By Jessica Kelner, D.O. - December 27, 2018

Flu season is officially here. 

Flu symptoms are different from the common cold. The symptoms often come on suddenly and you start to feel ill quickly. They include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle or body aches, headache, weakness and fatigue. Less common symptoms are vomiting and diarrhea. 

Traveling during the holiday season can increase influenza transmission (amongst colds and other illnesses).  People board planes feeling ill.  On planes, you sit very close to the person next to you. You know the feeling of being squished into a sardine can. Essentially planes are very large sardine cans with people in them. The air on planes is recirculated in a closed space among hundreds of people for many hours.  You get the gist.  On one flight there may be 10-20 people who are ill.  So, what do you do? Avoid traveling while sick. If you are forced to travel during the holiday times, get a mask at the local pharmacy and wear it during your flight. This won't prevent you from sharing your germs with others completely, but it will help.  The mask will also help prevent you from contracting other illnesses while you're already sick. 

The honest truth about influenza.  This can be a deadly virus.   Every year people die from influenza. Last year, 80,000 Americans died from the flu or complications from it. 180 of them were children and 80% of them didn't get a flu shot.  Seven children have already died this season from the flu in December. Most have had influenza A. 

What should I do if I think I have the flu? Seek medical attention if necessary. Your primary care doctor or local urgent care can give you a flu test.  If the test is positive, there is medication your doctor can give you that can shorten the duration and severity of your illness. Stay home and rest. Avoid contact with other people to reduce spreading of the illness. 

Get your annual flu shot to help avoid getting the flu this season.

There are certain people that are unable to get a flu shot due to medical conditions. If you get your flu shot, you're decreasing the spread of the flu and reducing the chances that the people who can't get the flu shot will get sick. 

Why do I need to get a flu shot yearly? The influenza virus changes from year to year, particularly influenza A.  Scientists that study this virus alter the vaccine every year to better target the most up to date influenza virus.  So, the vaccine components changes from year to year. 

Who should get a flu shot?
The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months or older. For children from 6 months - 8 years of age, they require 2 doses of the flu vaccine spaced 4 weeks apart (if they did not receive two doses before July 1, 2018).  If the child has received the 2 doses in the previous year, they only require 1 influenza vaccination in subsequent years.  Children and adults age 9 and older only require 1 vaccination per year. It is recommended to get vaccinated in the early fall (and by the latest in October).  Don't worry, you can still get vaccinated past October and it can still offer you protection against the flu. The flu vaccine is updated every year to reflect the current viruses of the season. There are trivalent (3 component) and quadrivalent (4 component) vaccines. The quadrivalent vaccines have 2 strains of Influenza A and 2 strains of Influenza B, while the trivalent has 2 strains of Influenza A and 1 strain of influenza B. 

If you are sick with a cold, you can still get the flu vaccine if your symptoms are minor. If your symptoms are more severe or if you have a fever, you should wait until you feel better to get your flu vaccine. If you are pregnant, you can still get the flu vaccine.  It is recommended that pregnant women get the inactivated influenza vaccine. 

Annual influenza vaccination can reduce mortality from the influenza virus by 41%.  

Types of flu shots this year 2018-2019.
For the 2018-2019 season, there are several vaccines:
  • Trivalent vaccines, which protect against three flu strains: two A and one B
  • Quadrivalent vaccines, which protect against fours strains: two A and two B
  • A high-dose vaccine that protects against two A and one B strain, meant for adults 65 and above, who usually have weaker immune systems
  • An adjuvanted vaccine, made using an ingredient that helps trigger a stronger immune response, is also an option for older adults. It protects against two A strains and one B.
  • A recombinant vaccine is an egg-free option for people with egg allergies. It protects against two A strains and one B strain.
  • A nasal spray vaccine for people ages 2 to 49 that protects against four strains: two A and two B. It is not for pregnant women and people with weakened immunity, among other conditions.

Children who have never been vaccinated against influenza will need two doses, spaced at least 4 weeks apart.

Who gets hit the hardest with the flu?
Children, older adults, pregnant women, anyone with a chronic medical condition, and health care workers are vulnerable to getting the flu or to having complications from the flu, such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus infections.

Children younger than 2 are especially at risk. Children under age 6 months  are also much more likely to get complications from the flu, but they're too young to be vaccinated.  The best thing to do is to be sure everyone in contact with them is vaccinated.

Adults over the age of 65 years are at greater risk than younger, healthy adults due to weakened immune systems. Typically, older adults account for most flu-related deaths and more than half of flu related hospitalizations.

Pregnant women, as well as those who have delivered a baby in the previous 2 weeks, are more likely to have a severe illness than women who aren't pregnant. Additionally, anyone with a chronic medical condition is more likely to have complications. 

Where do I get a flu shot? You can get one at doctors' offices, walk in clinics, pharmacies, health departments, and at many offices. 

How long does it take for the flu shot to work? It can take 10 days - 2 weeks for the flu shot to be effective. 

When does flu season start and end?
Flu season starts in October and runs as late as April. 

You can get your vaccine as early as September. 

Bottom line is the flu is not a pleasant illness to have. Most feel the sickest they have ever felt when they have the flu. You can suffer from complications of the flu that can severely impact your life, sometimes permanently. So, do what you can to avoid getting the flu. Get your annual flu shot, avoid contact with sick people, wash your hands often, and try to get plenty of sleep and eat a healthy diet to help keep your immune system strong.