It’s that time of year again. Influenza is beginning to circulate in our community. The following are some common questions I hear from my patients regarding the flu:
Q: What are the risks of contracting flu?
A: Most cases of flu will be relatively mild and last for a few days to a couple of weeks, but complications can arise in any flu case, particularly among people in high-risk groups. Even in a “normal” flu year, thousands of people in the U.S. die from influenza, so it is not something to be taken lightly.
Q: If I get sick, how do I know that I have the flu?
A: Influenza is a respiratory disease that can cause fever, headaches, body aches, extreme tiredness, sore throat, dry cough, runny or stuffy nose and some stomach symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Flu symptoms last two to five days, but it’s not uncommon to feel run down for at least a week. If you have flu-like symptoms stay home and avoid contact with other people unless you go to the doctor. Only your doctor will be able to determine if you have influenza or something else causing your symptoms.
Q: What is the best way to protect myself from flu?
A: The best defense against flu is vaccination. It is especially important for high-risk individuals (young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions and people over 65) to get vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that everyone six months of age and older should get vaccinated against flu as soon as possible.
Q: What does the seasonal influenza vaccine protect against?
A: Flu viruses are constantly changing and different flu bugs circulate each year. Scientists monitor flu viruses that circulate worldwide and use their research to determine which viruses are likely to be most prevalent in the coming year. Annual influenza vaccines normally consist of the three or four different viruses determined to be most likely to cause widespread illness. Most of the vaccines available this year will protect against two strains of influenza A and one strain of influenza B. Remember, it takes about two weeks after vaccination for your body to build an immune response so getting vaccinated early will protect you when flu season hits.