Many people don’t know that they can get influenza — the respiratory disease we often call the flu — any time of the year. While flu viruses usually peak between December and February, cases of flu can start to increase much earlier. Last fall, for example, reported cases of flu started to increase in September.
To be protected before flu season starts, now’s the time to get a flu shot.
The flu kills thousands of people each year and sends hundreds of thousands more to the hospital. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says most people who are six months or older should get a yearly flu shot.
There are many reasons that this is good advice. You can get the disease from someone who doesn’t know they have it and doesn’t have any symptoms. And avoiding the two to three weeks of fever and severe headaches, muscle aches and pains some people will endure this winter makes the flu shot worth your time and trouble.
Your decision to get a flu shot will also help protect other members of your community. That includes older people, children and pregnant women. It also includes people of all ages who have health problems like asthma or diabetes. They’re all among those who have the highest risk of developing serious, even life-threatening, complications if they contract the disease.
Preparing for the Flu Season
Like they have in previous years, researchers have updated the vaccine. This is to protect you from the flu strains they believe will be the most common during the coming flu season.
The result is an effective vaccine you can get from your health care provider or your local pharmacy at low or no cost. In many cases, nearby hospitals or your workplace will also offer flu shots.
The vaccine could cause a reaction, but it’s almost always mild. You might have redness, pain and swelling at the injection site or even a brief fever. Both are treatable with an over-the-counter pain reliever.
Keep in mind that it takes about two weeks for the shot to start protecting you. That’s why you shouldn’t wait until the flu season is raging to get your shot. Get it as soon as it’s available in your area. The CDC recommends getting it by the end of October.
What If You Still Get the Flu?
You may get the flu even if you receive a flu shot, but it’s often milder than if you had not gotten the shot. If you or a family member gets sick, remember these tips:
- Stay home from work or school for at least 24 hours and until your fever subsides without a fever-reducing medicine.
- Get plenty of rest.
- Use over-the-counter medicines to ease symptoms.
- Talk to your doctor about care for young children.
Don’t put it off.
Don’t skip the flu shot because you got it last year or because you don’t have time. It will take far less time out of your schedule to get the shot than you’ll spend recovering from the flu. Plan to get your flu shot as soon as it is available so you’ll be protected before peak season hits.
Sources: Key Facts About Influenza, CDC, 2017; Association Between Influenza Vaccination and Cardiovascular Outcomes in High-Risk Patients, JAMA, October 2013