Influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization, severe health complications and even death. The best protection against contracting the disease is getting the flu vaccine.
Last year, influenza-like illness activity began to increase in November. Since it can take about two weeks after vaccination for the body’s immune system to develop antibodies that protect against the virus, now is a good time to get your shot. The virus spreads more easily when people are together – like when students are heading back to school, and when colder weather settles in and people spend more time indoors and in close proximity to one another.
By taking a few simple steps, families can prevent the flu and stay healthy throughout the season.
Getting a flu shot right away is a good step to help protect yourself, your family and those around you. While we encourage everyone to get vaccinated, we are especially concerned about children, people with weakened immune systems (the immuno-compromised), and individuals over 65 years of age, as flu illness may be especially dangerous for them. To find a list of flu vaccine providers near you, visit the CDC’s Flu Vaccine Finder.
Feeling symptoms? Check it out
If you think you might have the flu, even if you have had a flu shot, call your primary care physician, visit a convenience care retail clinic or urgent care clinic, or schedule a virtual visit. Treatment for any viral illness starts with lots of rest, liquids and fever medication (for adults), to help the body combat the flu.
If you’re sick, stay home
If you think you have the flu, stay home to avoid spreading it to others. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others one day before symptoms appear and up to seven days after becoming sick.
Know your risk level
The greatest concern with flu is for the very young, very old or those with co-existing medical conditions. Here are some examples of groups at risk and the steps they should consider taking when symptoms begin:
** Pregnant women should contact their obstetricians to report their symptoms.
** People with diabetes, particularly those using insulin who develop difficult-to-control glucose levels, should contact their physician at first symptoms of the flu.
** Those who are immuno-compromised should alert their physician of their flu symptoms.
** Those experiencing an increasing shortness of breath, such as people who have chronic asthma or heart failure, should go to an emergency room for treatment.
The 2017-2018 flu season reminded us that the timing and severity of an outbreak are very unpredictable, but the flu vaccine is still the best way to reduce the risk of getting sick with seasonal flu and spreading it to others. The CDC recommends the flu shot for everyone over six months of age (with rare exceptions), but the flu vaccine is especially important for seniors, pregnant women, children and individuals with chronic illness or compromised immune systems. Flu vaccinations can reduce doctor visits and missed days from work and school, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations.
Dr. Linda Britton is Southeast Regional Vice President and Senior Medical Director for UnitedHealthcare