By Dr. Stephen Parodi, Kaiser Permanente Regional Chief of Infectious Disease
It is that time of year again. Kids come home with fevers and coworkers try and fight off their flu symptoms while at work. One of the best ways to protect yourself and your family however is with the flu vaccination.
Why get a flu shot?
The flu is more serious than the common cold, so do everything you can to prevent it. On average, 36,000 Americans die each year of the flu. Symptoms often include fever and chills, muscle or body aches, headaches, coughing, sore throat, exhaustion, and diarrhea.
Most flu-related deaths can be prevented by immunization however. A flu shot (or the nasal spray version) is your best defense. The vaccine is safe, won't make you sick, and generally has few side effects. Kaiser Permanente members can call 1-800-KP-FLU-11 or visit kp.org/flu for details on free flu clinics.
Do I need a shot every year?
The flu virus changes often and the protection from the vaccine only lasts for about a year. If you're not immunized against this year's expected virus strains, you and those around you are at risk for getting the flu. That's why you should get a flu shot every year, preferably in the fall. It usually takes 2 weeks to develop immunity. That's why you need to get your shot before the flu season begins.
If you have flu-like symptoms after receiving the flu shot, it can mean your body is mounting an immune response to the vaccine itself or you were infected with the flu or one of the many other respiratory viruses circulating in the community before the vaccine had a chance to work.
Who should get a flu shot?
The flu shot helps prevent you from getting the flu and from spreading it to others. Even healthy people can develop serious complications or even die from the flu — so protect yourself and your loved ones by getting vaccinated. The Centers for Disease Control now recommends vaccination for everyone 6 months or older. Those most at risk for flu-related complications include:
• people 50 years and older
• children 6 months through 4 years old
• women who are or will be pregnant during flu season
• people with chronic medical conditions or weakened immune systems
• people who live in nursing homes and other long-term care centers
• health care workers
• people who live with or care for anyone at high risk for flu-related complications
The flu vaccine helps prevent complications including bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.
Does my child need a flu shot?
Children can spread the flu easily to adults and other children. Getting vaccinated also helps protect infants (who cannot receive a flu shot), pregnant women, the elderly, and people with chronic conditions.
What else can I do to prevent the flu?
Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based cleaner, especially if you have sneezed or coughed. Also, cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, preferably with your upper sleeve and not your hands to help prevent passing the flu along.
And if you are sick, stay home. If you have a fever, wait at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine before returning to work or school.