By Becky Gradl, MPH, RD, LDN, CHES®, Contributing Writer
With the month of October, the arrival of fall, and the cooler temps associated with this time of year also comes the arrival of flu season. Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a respiratory illness caused by a virus. This means that the flu is caught when the virus is inhaled. The flu can be easily spread from person to person due to coughing, sneezing, or even just talking to others. The flu can also be caught by touching a contaminated surface or object and then touching your nose or mouth.
Who is at risk of getting the flu?
Anyone can get the flu. However, older adults, pregnant women, and children are at greater risk of serious complications if they catch the flu. Having the flu can worsen chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, and lung disease. The complications caused by the flu in people with higher risk can lead to hospitalization.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
Once the flu virus enters the body, it can take about one to four days for symptoms to appear. Some of the symptoms might include fever, headache, muscle or body aches, and fatigue. A person might also have a cough, sore throat, or runny/stuffy nose. Most people with the flu experience it as a mild illness and recover from it in two weeks or less. Older adults, however, are at a higher risk to have flu-related complications that could include sinus infection, ear infection, bronchitis, or pneumonia.
How can the flu be prevented?
The best prevention for the flu is getting vaccinated. Washing your hands, avoiding touching your nose, mouth, and eyes, and sanitizing objects and surfaces can help to prevent catching the flu. In addition, covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze can help prevent others from getting sick. If you have the flu, you should stay at home to avoid spreading the flu to others. Getting plenty of rest, eating nutritious foods, drinking plenty of fluids, being physically active, and managing stress can also help prevent coming down with the flu.
How effective is the flu vaccination?
A flu vaccination is the best and most effective method to prevent the flu. However, getting a flu vaccination does not guarantee that you will not get the flu. The flu vaccination is updated yearly for the strains that research shows are the most common. It is possible to get sick with a strain that was not included in the vaccine. If you do get sick, the vaccine could reduce the severity of the flu you caught. Getting vaccinated earlier in flu season provides the best protection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting a flu vaccination by the end of October.
Can the flu vaccination cause the flu?
Flu vaccinations are made up of either dead viruses or the proteins of viruses. Neither can cause the flu. If you get sick shortly after receiving the vaccine, it’s likely you had already been exposed to the flu prior to being vaccinated. It takes about two weeks for your body to build up immunity, so you can also get the flu during that period of time.
Keep yourself and your loved ones protected this flu season by getting the flu vaccine!
Some information courtesy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.