Published on October 10, 2019
Family Nurse Practitioner Emily Wiseman, who specializes in family medicine with the Phelps Health Medical Group, answers some common questions about influenza (the flu) and flu shots.
What is influenza (the flu)?
Influenza is a viral sickness/illness that affects our upper respiratory systems, including our noses and throats, said Family Nurse Practitioner Emily Wiseman. Influenza can be mild or severe, sometimes even affecting our lungs.
What is the difference between the flu and a cold?
Flu symptoms are usually quick in onset, whereas a cold can be slower to show its symptoms. With a cold, you generally do not have fever, whereas with influenza, a fever is likely. Other flu symptoms include body aches and chills. These symptoms are unlikely with a cold. Some similar symptoms to both influenza and colds are sneezing, headaches, sore throat, fatigue and even chest discomfort. However, if you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for influenza or if you have fever, body aches, chills and generalized weakness, a trip to the doctor’s office is usually warranted.
Who should and should not get the flu shot?
We recommend that anyone over the age of 6 months get the flu vaccine. If individuals are younger than 6 months of age or have known allergies to the vaccine or any of its ingredients, they should obviously not have the injection. If you have an allergy to eggs or have ever had a diagnosis of Guillain-Barre Syndrome, you will need to speak with your provider prior to getting the vaccine because you may not be eligible. There also are different ways to receive the flu vaccine. Talking with your healthcare provider will help ease your mind, and your provider will be more than happy to go over all of your options to optimally protect you and your loved ones.
Why should I get a flu shot?
Influenza can be mild and cause mild symptoms, or it can be severe and even life-threatening in certain cases. We are all different and have different health histories and immune systems. We also know that each flu seasons presents differently. Just because you were lucky and did not have the flu last year, that does not mean you will not be affected this year. Getting our flu shots yearly is the most effective way to protect ourselves.
Can I get the flu from the vaccine?
While there are different ways to protect against the flu, with the flu shot, you cannot get the actual flu virus. The injection that you receive is weakened or actually inactivated (dead), so therefore, cannot cause the actual flu virus.
How do flu vaccines work?
Flu vaccines take effect in our bodies by creating antibodies. The antibodies that are created help provide protection for us against the different strains of the influenza virus that are present in the vaccinations that we receive. Each year after flu season, research is conducted to see what the most common influenza viruses were during that year. Our flu shots are then created to cover the viruses that the experts think will be more prevalent in the upcoming year.
When should I get vaccinated? Is the vaccine immediately effective?
We usually start administering our flu vaccinations before flu season starts, which is generally around the beginning to middle of October. The vaccine is not effective immediately, as it generally takes around two weeks for the antibodies to develop in our bodies. That way, when we get the vaccines in October, our bodies will have ample time to start protecting us before flu season starts.
Besides flu shots, how else can I protect against the flu?
One of the main preventive measures against getting the flu is hand washing, lots and lots of hand washing. If you have to sneeze or cough, do so by covering your mouth/nose and then wash your hands immediately afterwards, as the flu is spread by these droplet secretions. Eating healthy foods, drinking tons of water and getting plenty of sleep throughout the flu season can all help keep our immune systems high and our risks of getting the flu lower. Also, if you are sick with flu-like symptoms, stay home and rest. Staying home will help prevent against the transmission of the virus to others and rest is one of the main keys to recovery.