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The “flu” is short for “influenza”, a contagious viral infection that can present with both mild as well as severe symptoms.
As this illness hijacks the respiratory system, it can in some cases result in hospitalization and in extreme cases, result in death.
The flu is different from a cold. The symptoms of a cold which include a stuffy nose, sore throat, a fever in some cases, chills, headache, body aches, etc. usually come on in a progressive manner.
By contrast, flu symptoms, such as fever, chills, and headache, have an abrupt onset and are accompanied by body ache and fatigue.
Certain demographics are more susceptible to flu-related complications, and these include pregnant women, the elderly, young children, alcoholics, and smokers.
People with certain pre-existing health conditions such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes, cardiac disorders, and immunocompromised states are also vulnerable.
The influenza virus sticks around throughout the year but becomes particularly active during specific months that is collectively termed as the “flu season.”
In the United States, the flu season generally spans from December to February but can extend to as late as May.
The 2018-2019 flu season was a particularly bad one! The virus showed widespread and intense activity that accounted for an alarming number of influenza-associated hospitalizations and deaths.
The intensity of the flu epidemic can be assessed from the mortality surveillance data released released June 6th 2019, by the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).
The figures show that pneumonia and influenza were responsible for as many as 5.4% of the deaths during the week ending June 1, 2019. (2)
In 2018, there were as many as 86.3 influenza-associated hospitalizations per 100,000 people in duration as short as from February 25 to March 3. This number only highlights the severity of this pandemic.
Do not assume it is too late to get the flu. You should still take the necessary precautionary measures to prevent it.
Before learning about preventive tips, it is important to understand the flu itself.
Signs and Symptoms
A sudden onset of fever that is usually above 101 °F or 38.3 °C is usually the first sign of the flu, which is often followed by the following symptoms:
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Unusual fatigue
- Dry, hacking cough
- Vomiting, particularly in children
- Loose stools, particularly in children
However, not everyone with the flu will have a fever.
Flu symptoms set in gradually, so you may not be able to tell if a person has the infection initially. Even though the symptoms are latent in the early days, the virus is not.
Thus, someone who has contracted the flu can spread it to others even when the symptoms are absent.
Types of Flu Viruses
Flu viruses are classified into four groups: (16)
Influenza A virus
The influenza A virus contains two glycoproteins on its surface, namely, hemagglutinin (HA) and the neuraminidase (NA), which are present in varying combinations.
Depending upon its composition, the influenza A virus is further divided into different subtypes.
The two most prevalent forms of influenza A virus that currently affect humans are A(H1N1) and A(H3N2).
These particular forms of influenza virus have been implicated in a majority of flu pandemics.
Since the A(H1N1) virus was responsible for the flu pandemic in 2009, it is often written as A(H1N1)pdm09.
Influenza A viruses are typically carried by several animals, including cats, swine, ducks, horses, whales, chickens, and seals.
Every influenza outbreak can be traced back to an infected bird or animal, but it is highly unlikely for the animal carrier to transmit the virus directly to humans.
Influenza B virus
Influenza B viruses are not classified into different subtypes but can be distinguished in terms of their descent or pedigree.
The most dominant strains of influenza B viruses that are presently in circulation hail from either the B/Yamagata or B/Victoria lineage.
This form of flu virus is restricted to humans alone, unlike influenza A viruses that circulate among animals as well.
Most of the seasonal flu epidemics that hit the US almost every year, particularly during the winter months, are caused by either the human influenza type A or B.
Influenza C virus
Influenza C viruses do not pose a serious public health concern as they rarely cause any major respiratory illness.
This subtype of influenza virus is not very active and generally triggers a very mild form of infection.
It is highly unlikely for influenza C to cause an epidemic, making it fairly nonthreatening.
Influenza D virus
Influenza type D does not target humans and is mostly prevalent among cattle.
How Does the Flu Spread?
The flu is an easily communicable disease that can be contracted through direct or indirect contact.
People infected with the flu can spread the infection through aerosolized droplets of saliva and this can occur by speaking, coughing, sneezing, or breathing.
These droplets travel through the air and land on any object or person in their trajectory.
People in close contact with an infected person are more likely to pick up the virus, either through inhalation or by touching a contaminated surface.
Vaccination: Standard Way to Protect Yourself
There is no alternative to vaccination when it comes to tackling influenza. A flu vaccine works as the primary defense mechanism against this highly contagious viral infection.
If you do come down with the illness despite proper vaccination, the symptoms will be relatively mild and your body will be better equipped to fight the virus.
The vaccine exposes your body to a weakened version of the flu virus that is incapable of causing any illness or infection.
Once your body familiarizes itself to the virus, it engineers specific antibodies as a means to fight the infection. It takes a few weeks for the vaccine to kick in and trigger the production of antibodies. (17)
CDC guidelines suggest that anyone above the age of 6 months should get vaccinated against the flu. (4)
Flu vaccinations are categorized into the following types:
1. Standard flu vaccine
Getting a flu shot is the most routine form of immunization against the flu. As soon as the child turns 6 years of age, he/she becomes eligible for the flu vaccine.
This vaccine can help prevent the infection or reduce the intensity of symptoms in case of an infection.
A typical flu shot involves injecting the influenza vaccine into your arm with a needle.
The vaccine contains antigens, which are proteins derived from the surface of the targeted flu virus. These antigens, once introduced into your body trigger an immune response.
The flu shot essentially activates your body to produce specific antibodies that can combat the virus strains present in the vaccine.
Once the body familiarizes itself with the influenza virus, it gradually becomes adept at warding off any future infection related to that specific strain of virus.
This form of acquired immunity usually takes a minimum of 2 weeks to kick in completely.
However, you must exercise the necessary precautions in the brief interim period between getting the shot and developing enough protection to keep the flu viruses at bay.
2. Intradermal flu vaccine for adult ages 18 to 64
Unlike the standard flu vaccine that is injected into the muscle, the intradermal flu shot is injected into the skin.
This type of flu shot can engender the same immune response as the regular flu shot with a smaller amount of antigen.
It is for this reason that intradermal flu injections are usually administered with a relatively smaller needle.
3. Trivalent flu vaccine
A trivalent flu shot is designed to compensate for the age-related loss of immunity in older adults who are above the age of 65.
This trivalent vaccine contains a relatively higher dose of antigen than the other types of vaccinations. Hence, it results in a stronger immune response to the virus. (21)
4. Quadrivalent flu vaccine
As the name suggests, the quadrivalent flu shot provides immunity against four strains of flu viruses, of which two are influenza A viruses while the other two are influenza B viruses.
This flu shot is approved for anyone 4 years or older, with the exception of pregnant women and those with certain pre-existing medical conditions.
Note that there is a specially designed quadrivalent flu vaccine for infants and toddlers, which does not work on older populations.
Like most flu shots, this vaccine is also injected into the arm muscle, either with a needle or a jet injector.
5. Recombinant vaccine
The recombinant vaccine is an FDA-approved quadrivalent flu shot that is intended for adults who are 18 years or older.
Traditional methods of vaccine production use chicken eggs to cultivate the vaccine virus.
This egg-grown vaccine virus may trigger an adverse response in people with a pre-existing allergy to eggs. In such cases, an egg-free alternative may be used to vaccinate these allergic individuals.
The only available egg-free vaccine in the United States right now is the recombinant flu shot.
6. Cell-based flu vaccine
Certain flu vaccines are developed using new-age cell culture technology as opposed to the conventional egg-based manufacturing process.
This alternative form of the vaccine is more effective than egg-based flu vaccines in warding off influenza viruses.
The cell-based candidate vaccine viruses (CVVs) used in this alternative form of vaccine are a closer match to the flu viruses than those used in regular flu shots.
Thus, the protective effect of the cell-based flu vaccine may supersede that of traditional egg-based flu vaccines.
7. Nasal flu vaccine
The nasal flu vaccine contains live strains of flu viruses whose strength has been attenuated or weakened.
Unlike other flu vaccines that are injected into the body, the nasal vaccine is sprayed into the nose.
These weakend viruses stimulate the immune system upon entering the body but do not cause any infection or disease in healthy individuals.
Importantly, note that the nasal flu vaccine is not safe for pregnant women, children below the age of 2, the elderly, or those with pre-existing health conditions.
Only healthy people that figure in the age bracket of 2 to 49 years of age are recommended to avail of this option.
When Should I Get My Flu Shot?
The flu vaccine takes a minimum period of 2 weeks before it starts to show its effect. Thus, most people prefer to get their shot before the advent of the flu season.
The flu season in the United States typically begins in December and extends into February or longer, but there can be some variations every year. It is generally advisable to get vaccinated by the end of October.
However, do not fret if you have missed the deadline. The vaccine will help keep you healthy even if you get your shot well into the flu season.
Side Effects of the Flu Vaccine
The flu vaccine can trigger a few harmless side effects, which may vary depending upon the type of vaccination.
People who get a flu shot usually experience:
- Some degree of swelling, redness, and soreness at the injection site
- A mild fever
Those who opt for the nasal vaccine may experience:
- Soreness in the throat
- A Runny nose
Prescription medications called “antiviral” drugs can be used to treat the flu. The CDC recommends prompt treatment for people who have an infection or are suspected to have the flu.
People who are at an increased risk of developing flu complications such as those with cardiovascular problems, respiratory illnesses like asthma, and diabetes (including gestational diabetes) must get prompt treatment to keep their condition from turning serious.
One of the most commonly used flu medications is oseltamivir, which is FDA approved and available in both pill and liquid forms.
This antiviral drug is safe for anyone from 2 weeks of age and older, and is usually administered during the early stages of the condition. (25)
The choice of vaccine usually varies for different age groups. For instance, the regular flu shot is considered safe for anyone above the age of 6 months.
The intradermal flu shot is mostly recommended to adults between the ages of 18 and 64 years of age.
Thus, the person’s age is an important consideration when determining the suitability of different types of vaccines in order to come up with the best option.
Moreover, a person may be allergic to a particular vaccine or some of its content, which calls for a safer alternative.
Your doctor will take into account all the relevant factors before suggesting the most suitable vaccine for your particular case.
The respiratory viruses responsible for the flu-like symptoms in children and adults account for a large number of deaths each year.
Hence, the importance of vaccination against such infections cannot be stressed enough. The influenza virus changes antigenicity frequently, so seasonal flu vaccines have to be updated almost annually. (6)
Self-Care and Home Management
Find protection and relief from the flu with these tips and home remedies.
1. Self-Care Tips
Protect yourself from the flu infection by following these self-care measures:
- If you feel like you are coming down with the flu, rest for at least a day to see if the symptoms subside. If the fever persists, you must be medically evaluated.
- The flu virus tends to flourish in dry air and does not fare as well in damp environments.
For this reason, consider using a humidifier to impart moisture to the indoor air. Keep the humidity in your living space at 30% to 50%. Clean the humidifier from time to keep it free from mold.
- Vitamin D is essential for the proper functioning of your immune system, but most people run low on this vital nutrient.
Vitamin D is known to inhibit the release of inflammatory proteins called cytokines and increase the level of antimicrobial proteins in the body. This dual-action may help embolden the natural defenses of the body against invading germs and viruses.
This immune-boosting mechanism of vitamin D is supported by scientific research. Supplementation of this nutrient during the winter may provide added protection against influenza A and other acute respiratory tract infections.
People with a vitamin D deficiency and specific subgroups of schoolchildren were found to benefit the most from this type of adjunctive nutritional therapy. (26)(27)(28)
However, a meta-analysis provided evidence to the contrary. The study found that routine supplementation of vitamin D has no significant effect in reducing the incidence of respiratory tract infections. (22)
Nevertheless, vitamin D supplements are unlikely to cause any adverse side effects or complications if taken in appropriate amounts. So, if you are diagnosed with a severe deficiency and intend to start this supplement, consult your doctor with regards to the correct dosage.
If nothing else, having sufficient vitamin D in the body allows you to perform better against infections and otherwise.
- You must wear surgical gloves while tending to a person who has the flu. This precautionary measure will help keep your hands from getting contaminated.
- Avoid close contact with anyone who is diagnosed with the flu.
As it is not always possible to tell if someone has the flu or not, keep your distance from people who show any sign of sickness during the flu season. The adage “an ounce of prevention is better than the cure” fits perfectly for a condition like the flu. (13)
- Sharing a bed with someone who has the flu is highly ill-advised. Flu is very contagious. Being in such close proximity to an infected individual facilitates the spread of the virus to you.
- Consume sufficient fluids throughout the day to keep your body hydrated at all times. A well-hydrated body is better equipped to fight infections.
- Stay away from crowded places when the flu is in the air. Sharing the same space with an infected person can increase your chances of contracting the flu.
- Keep your toothbrush in a case or cover its head with one, and store it in a closed bathroom cabinet.
This kind of protective covering keeps your toothbrush safe from airborne germs, including the flu virus.
- Avoid sharing food, drink, as well as eating and drinking utensils with infected people.
- The importance of proper sleep and rest cannot be stressed enough when coping with a flu infection.
When you go into slumber mode, the body works to repair itself and rebuild its strength. Getting 7–9 hours of restorative sleep every night qualifies as the bare minimum.
- Your body needs to be well-rested to recover from the flu, but that does not mean that you must become totally inactive.
A sedentary lifestyle never helped anyone as far as health is concerned. So even in the throes of infection, one must regularly engage in some form of light physical exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. .
- Stress management is essential to keep your immune system functioning at its best. People who are prone to excessive tension, anxiety, and stress have high levels of cortisol in the body.
Cortisol may suppress your body’s defense response, creating an environment conducive to acquiring infections. Try to keep your cortisol levels under control by practicing cathartic and meditative techniques such as deep breathing, listening to calming music, or engaging in a hobby that is pleasurable.
- Limit your intake of alcohol or avoid it entirely.
- Give up smoking as soon as possible. Steer clear of secondhand smoke as well.
- Consume immunity-boosting fruit and vegetables as part of your everyday diet. Proper nutrition helps strengthen your body from within and fortifies your immune response against the flu.
- Exposure to the influenza virus prior to vaccination warrants prompt antiviral treatment.
- Consume alkaline foods and drinks. The influenza virus tends to thrive in an acidic environment but does not fare so well in one that is alkaline. Increase your intake of alkaline foods by eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
- Some degree of alkalization can also be achieved through nondietary interventions, the most important being stress management.
People who are prone to stress and anxiety tend to have an acidic body environment. Meditative exercises, when practiced regularly, can help you in this regard. (6)
2. Implement Lifestyle Changes
a. Cover your mouth and nose every time you cough or sneeze
Influenza viruses are usually transmitted through air droplets, which are released into the environment when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
You must cover your mouth and nose with a tissue the minute you feel a sneeze or cough coming on. You may use your hands to cover your mouth or sneeze into your elbow if nothing else is available.
This simple gesture goes beyond manners and etiquette and qualifies as one of the most fundamental measures to contain the spread of infection such as that of the flu.
The study found that the droplets released from smaller coughs and sneezes usually cover distances 5 to 200 times longer than those covered by droplets released from full-mouthed coughs or sneezes.
It is best to discard the used tissue straight into the trash. Carrying the contaminated tissue with you or leaving it elsewhere can transfer the virus to other surfaces, objects, or people.
Moreover, always wash your hands as much as possible after you sneeze or cough.
b. Wear a face mask
The responsibility to contain a flu outbreak has to be shared by everyone, including those who have the illness and those who are at risk of getting infected.
One utilitarian tool for this purpose is the face mask commonly used by doctors while conducting various clinical, medical, or surgical procedures.
You can never be too careful when it comes to the flu, as the disease is highly contagious and is present in the very air you breathe. The flu viruses enter your system through the nose or mouth.
Covering these access points with a mask may help block the airborne droplets released by someone who is ill thereby preventing you from contracting the infection.
People with the flu should also be made to wear a face mask to limit the number of germs they release when they cough, sneeze, speak, or breathe. (11)
c. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
The influenza virus lives on various commonly used surfaces but is invisible to the naked eye. If you are not careful enough, you may end up with the flu yourself due to something as simple as touching your face.
The influenza virus is transmitted through airborne droplets of saliva released from the mouth or nose of an infected individual.
These droplets can land on any nearby surface, transferring the virus onto it. The surface continues to be a contamination risk for as long as the virus is active.
When you touch a surface, object, or skin carrying the influenza virus, your hands get contaminated as well.
Subsequently, if you touch your face without cleaning your hands first, the virus is transferred to your eyes, mouth, and nose.
According to the CDC, the flu virus can survive in the environment for a whole day.
Even regularly washing your hands does not ensure that they will remain clean every minute of the day.
Touching your face with contaminated hands provides easy access for the germs to enter your nose or mouth. So, refrain from touching your eyes, nose, or mouth unless your hands are clean and sanitized.
Children have the habit of rubbing their eyes or putting their hands in their mouth. Help them grow out of such tendencies to keep them safe from infections. (15)
d. Wash your hands often
Proper hand hygiene is a must if you wish to stay protected from contagious infections such as the flu.
Wash your hands regularly with a disinfectant soap and clean running water, especially if touching your face or sitting down for a meal.
If you sneeze or cough into your hands, it is all the more necessary to sanitize them thereafter.
To make sure that your hands are effectively clean, use a good-quality soap. Rub your hands together after applying the soap for at least 20 to 30 seconds to rid them of any deep-seated grime. Finally, rinse the lather off with plenty of clean water.
The need for hygienic measures such as regular handwashing becomes even more urgent during pandemics such as a flu outbreak. (5)
People who are particular about personal cleanliness are less likely to contract the influenza virus. (8)
Regular handwashing may be a recommended step towards flu prevention but it cannot guarantee success as a standalone measure.
Besides, this technique may not help contain the spread of infection between people who live in close proximity.
For instance, if one of your family members comes down with the flu, regular handwashing alone will not guard you against the virus if you do not distance yourself from the infected individual. (12)
It may serve you well to carry an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with you around the house and more importantly, when you are venturing out.
e. Clean your home
Flu viruses travel through airborne droplets released from the mouth and nose of an infected person. Once ejected, these infection-carrying droplets can land anywhere in the vicinity.
Thus, the objects and surfaces that you come in contact with on a day-to-day basis may be swimming with germs and viruses.
These include doorknobs, phone covers, phone chargers, refrigerator handles, chopping boards, dishcloths, and kitchen sponges.
Touching the contaminated object can transfer the virus to your hands and eventually into your system.
Washing your hands frequently may reduce the contamination risk. However, it is a bit ambitious to think that you can keep your hands squeaky clean every minute of the day.
Hence, it is important to keep your surroundings clean at all times, but more so during the flu season. By disinfecting potentially contaminated surfaces in your home and workplace, you can reduce your risk of getting infected through indirect contact.
Wipe commonly touched objects with a household cleaner. Disinfect the floors, kitchen counters, desks, tables, sinks and toilets in your household.
All these areas serve as “hotspots” for germs and need frequent and thorough cleaning inorder to stave off various health threats, including those from the flu. Readily available household items such as vinegar, bleach and soap can be used to disinfect these areas. (14)
It is also recommended to change your bed linens from time to time. Used bedsheets and pillowcases should be washed in warm water and then put in a dryer on a hot setting. The heat helps to inactivate or kill the influenza virus.
Keeping your home clean helps lower the germ load in your immediate surrounding. This is all the more important if someone in your house has already contracted the flu.
3. Take Probiotics
Probiotics are essentially live bacteria and yeast that are akin to the healthy microorganisms found in the human gut.
The gut flora comprises both good and bad bacteria. The sign of a healthy digestive system is a balance between the two.
Whenever there is an excess of harmful bacteria over the friendly strains, your digestive functioning gets disrupted, and a number of ailments ensue.
Consuming probiotics is an easy way to restore the balance between the helpful and harmful gut bacteria.
You can avail yourself of these probiotics in the form of dietary supplements, suppositories, creams, and fermented foods. Some foods that are replete with probiotics include:
Probiotic consumption helps to fortify your body’s natural defenses against infections such as influenza.
Besides keeping the harmful bacteria in check, probiotics have been found to increase the production of natural antibodies in the body. As a result, your body becomes better equipped to fight off the virus.
A meta-analysis carried out by Hao et al., provided evidence in support of the beneficial activity of probiotics, in that it emboldens the immune response. (18)
A total of 14 randomized controlled trials were analyzed to compare the effects of probiotics with a placebo, in terms of their ability to prevent acute upper respiratory tract infections. Results revealed that probiotics do enhance the immune system against the influenza virus. (18)
In one study, schoolchildren were continually administered a probiotic fermented dairy drink containing Lactobacillus brevis and Bifidobacterium. Results showed a marked reduction in the incidence of influenza in the children, with the favorable effect being more profound in children who were not vaccinated against the virus. (6)
Some studies also observed that the oral consumption of the probiotic drinks several weeks before and after the administration of the flu vaccine resulted in a spike in the levels of influenza-specific IgA and IgG antibodies. (3)(1)(9)
Such an increase in antibody levels enhances the immune system.
The oral administration of probiotics and prebiotics may help enhance the protective effect of the influenza vaccine. That said, one cannot expect to fight the flu by consuming probiotics alone. This supportive remedy will only yield positive results when performed in conjunction with standard inoculation.
The Flu Cycle
The influenza virus finds its way into your body through nasal or oral passages without you realizing it.
The virus travels to the lungs where it develops into a full-blown infection. At this incubation stage, the infection presents no visible symptoms but is already contagious.
You may experience an occasional sniffle, but there is virtually no way of knowing that you have contracted the flu.
By the end of the incubation period, the viral infection has grown enough to manifest visibly.
This stage is characterized by a sudden onset of flu symptoms, such as a high fever, chills, headache, painful muscles, runny or a congested nose, severe cough and a sore throat.
You are overcome by a general feeling of being unwell. The only way to reduce the length of your illness is early treatment during the first 2 days after the symptoms hit you. To that end, you will have to seek medical assistance.
Your doctor will take into account all the relevant factors before prescribing the appropriate medicines to relieve your discomfort and shorten the flu cycle.
The symptoms peak as the infection enters its 6th day. By this time, the virus has completely taken over your immune system, and there is little you can do to lessen the intensity of the illness over the next few days.
It is during the climactic phase of the flu period that the body begins to manufacture the antibodies required to defeat the virus.
As the immune system puts up a better fight, your symptoms begin to diminish gradually. The fever and coughing gradually reduce, until they completely cease in a matter of days. It may take longer for flu-related fatigue to disappear completely, but you will gain enough strength to resume normal activities.
Overcoming the flu will most likely render you immune to that particular strain of virus, but you are still vulnerable to other flu strains.
Cold vs. Flu
A lot of people use the terms flu and common cold interchangeably, given that both these infections share a number of common traits.
Despite the similarity in symptoms, both these ailments are caused by different viruses. While there are over 200 types of viruses that can cause a cold, the flu infection is usually caused by two types of viruses, namely, influenza A and B.
Both these infections affect the respiratory system, but the symptoms associated with the common cold are generally milder than those of the flu.
The onset of the symptoms is much more gradual in the case of the common cold, starting with a runny or stuffy nose, sneezing, and a sore throat.
Flu symptoms, on the other hand, come on very quickly and intensely in the form of extreme tiredness, fever, body aches and cough.
Although most prevalent in winters, a cold can be contracted anytime of the year. The flu season, however, stretches from December through February.
All things considered, the flu is typically worse than a cold and can lead to pneumonia, bacterial infections and other health complications that may warrant prescription medications and sometimes even hospitalization.
Given that symptoms are often insufficient to tell the two conditions apart, your doctor may conduct special tests within the first few days of the illness to identify if it is the flu or merely a cold.
Here is a list of complications associated with the flu:
- The most common complication associated with the flu is pneumonia. This happens particularly in cases when a viral-based influenza infection triggers a secondary bacterial infection in the body that can be caused by strains such as Hemophilus influenzae or Streptococcus pneumoniae.
- The influenza virus can also aggravate other chronic medical conditions such as pulmonary diseases and asthma.
- In some cases, the flu can pave the way for sinus and ear infections.
- A particularly severe infection can induce a major inflammatory response in the body and may lead to sepsis if the virus enters the bloodstream.
- Another serious complication associated with a bad case of flu is inflammation of the heart or myocarditis.
- Flu can even trigger encephalitis or brain fever.
- The influenza virus can trigger inflammation in your muscle tissue, leading to myositis and rhabdomyolysis.
- In extreme cases, the flu infection can cause your organs to shut down (for example, respiratory and kidney failure).
People at High Risk of Getting the Flu
The following groups are more vulnerable to the flu virus and should exercise extra precaution against it:
- Older adults who are aged 65 years or older
- Pregnant women
- Young children (<5 years of age)
- People with asthma
- People with diabetes
- People with cardiovascular disorders
- People with a history of stroke
- People with HIV/AIDS
- People with cancer
- Children with neurodevelopment disorders
- People with liver and kidney diseases
Myths About the Flu Vaccine
1. The flu vaccine can give you the flu.
Some people put off getting a flu vaccine on the pretext that it may end up infecting them.
Vaccination involves injecting live influenza virus in your body to stimulate an immune response. However, the virus strains used in the vaccine have been attenuated/weakened. They are not active or strong enough to induce an infection.
So, any reservation that you may have about the immunization process being counterproductive is completely unfounded.
You may experience mild symptoms, but they are totally unrelated to influenza.
2. Only healthy people need influenza vaccination.
Everyone should get it, especially the people mentioned above to prevent major illness.
3. The flu vaccine is useful only for severe disease.
The flu vaccine is effective for cases that exhibit mild symptoms as well as those that result in a severe respiratory disorder.
4. If you are feeling well with no symptoms post-infection, then you do not need medication.
Approximately 30% of the people who spread the flu are asymptomatic. Thus, complete the course of medicine even after your symptoms disappear to ensure that the infection is gone for good.
5. The flu vaccine is harmful in pregnancy.
There is a commonly held belief that a flu vaccine can jeopardize your pregnancy, but there is no truth to that claim. In fact, the CDC asserts to the contrary.
A flu shot poses no health risk for either the mother or the child. It can be administered during any trimester of the pregnancy.
Experts believe that every childbearing woman should get vaccinated against the flu to safeguard her own health as well as that of her child. The child’s immunity against the flu will persist even after birth and can last for up to 6 months after delivery. (23)(24)
6. I exercise and have good nutrition, so I do not need the flu vaccine.
The flu vaccine is a must for anyone who wishes to avoid this highly contagious infection.
Physical fitness and proper nutrition may help your immune system perform better, but they do not guarantee protection against the flu.
Even the healthiest of individuals can fall victim to this viral illness if not vaccinated in time.
7. I got vaccinated last year, so I am good to go without it this year.
The flu virus changes its structure and immunity declines as the year passes, so vaccination is required every year.
When to See the Doctor
If you have the slightest inkling that you may be coming down with the flu, it is important to get yourself evaluated by a doctor. Early diagnosis is key in shortening the duration of your infection, diminishing the severity of your symptoms, and avoiding any untoward complications.
What your doctor may ask you:
- When did you last get the flu shot?
- What symptoms are you experiencing?
- How long have these symptoms persisted?
- Have you taken any medication so far?
What you may want to ask your doctor:
- How long does it take for the symptoms to subside?
- How long do I have to take these medications?
- Can I go to work while I’m down with the flu?
- What precautionary measures should I undertake to avoid spreading the flu to others?
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Dr. Daquesha C. Chever, DO (Family Physician)
In general, the symptoms of flu can last for 3-7 days. In extreme cases, the symptoms can last up to 2 weeks.
Taking oral doses of vitamin C will not protect you from contracting the flu. However, as a powerful antioxidant, vitamin C can help protect and strengthen your immune system.
Staying hydrated is probably the most important thing you can do, especially if you are running a fever. You can drink water, coconut water, or electrolyte-containing sports drinks for hydration.
Eating foods rich in antioxidants and vitamin C can give your immune system a much needed boost when you are sick.
No, the flu virus mutates (changes) from year to year. Therefore, you need to get a new seasonal flu vaccine each year to be protected against the newly evolved strain of the virus.
In addition, the antibodies your body makes to the flu shot decrease over as time passes. Hence, the antibodies your body made last year are likely gone or so low that they cannot provide you much protection.
The bad news is people who were vaccinated can still contract the flu. Flu infection in these people can happen for several reasons, including whether or not they received the appropriate dose of vaccine for their age, when they received their flu vaccine (timing), and the condition of their health at the time of vaccination.
The good news is that the symptoms are typically milder and the course of illness is shorter for those who received the vaccine than those who did not.
Have everyone in your family including yourself get the flu shot. The flu shot is available for individuals 6 months and older.
• It is recommended for all pregnant women.
• Cough or sneeze into your hands or elbows to decrease the spread of germs to others.
• Practice good hand hygiene and wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Want a more accurate way to tell if you are spending enough time washing your hands? Wash your hands while singing the Happy Birthday song.
There are prescription medications that can decrease the flu symptoms and shorten the duration of illness. These medications work best if you start them within 48 hours of developing your first flu symptom.
However, mild cases of the flu can be treated at home with fever reducers, anti-inflammatory medications, rest, and fluid hydration.
Please see your doctor if your flu symptoms that are not responding to traditional over-the-counter medications.
It is also recommended to seek medical care if the more severe symptoms, such as decreased urine output (a sign of dehydration), severe muscle pain, difficulty breathing, fever over 104 °F, decreased alertness, dizziness, confusion, fast or troubled breathing, chest or rib pain, fever, or cough, initially improved and then worsened again.
About Dr. Daquesha C. Chever, DO: Dr. Chever is a Board-Certified Family Medicine Physician and renowned author of Step Into Your Destiny: Your Next Best Is Waiting, speaker, and consultant.
She earned her doctorate from the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine and completed her Residency Family Medicine at NSU-Palmetto General Hospital in Miami, Florida, with a passion for disease processes of the skin and primary disease prevention.
After graduation, Dr. Chever found her niche in teaching. She was awarded Clinical Preceptor of the year at her alma mater in 2015. She is currently employed as an Urgent Care Physician and enjoys being available to meet the health care demands of her community.