Published: Dec. 17, 2012
Updated: Dec. 17, 2012
The flu season is just getting started, and it’s shaping up to be nasty. About 36,000 Americans die annually from the flu, which is why doctors like Monica Barnes-Durity, MD, a family practitioner with Duke Primary Care Morrisville, are urging people who haven’t already gotten the flu vaccine to do so now.
“It is definitely not too late,” she says. “A lot of people haven’t gotten the vaccine yet because they think the flu season hasn’t started, or they think the vaccine will give them the flu but that’s just not true.”
Others may not realize they need a new vaccination each year.
Experts prepare a new flu vaccine each year based on their scientific predictions of the virus strains that will strike. This year’s vaccine closely mimics the strains that have already been identified in many states across the country.
However, because the vaccine takes up to two weeks for the body to develop an immune response, the sooner you get the vaccine, the more protected you will be.
“People say, ‘Last time I got the flu vaccine, I got the flu,” says Barnes-Durity. “In actuality, you didn’t give your body time to arm itself. You can get the flu shot on Saturday, be in contact with someone who has the flu on Sunday, and you will get the flu or a flu-like illness.”
It’s also important to know that the vaccine is not 100 percent effective. Rather, it should keep the most severe flu symptoms at bay. “If you get any symptoms at all it will be mild but you should not get a full-blown case of the flu,” Barnes-Durity says.
Getting the vaccine is easy. Doctor’s offices, pharmacies, clinics and many work places offer the vaccine at minimal cost. If getting an injection makes you nervous, you can opt for the inhaled version. Recent evidence suggests children have a better immune response to the inhaled than the injected version.
Of course there are some populations of people who should not get the inhaled vaccine such as people who have life-threatening egg allergies and pregnant women should not have the live-attentuated or inhaled kind. People with certain chronic diseases like severe asthma or an immune disorder should talk to their doctor first.
If you haven’t gotten the flu vaccine and you do come down with flu-like symptoms, including fever, weakness, respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms, contact your provider immediately. A rapid test can confirm if you have the flu and anti-viral medication can shorten the duration of the illness. Getting treatment fast is important because the flu can lead to life-threatening infections including pneumonia.
Without the vaccine, be prepared to be very sick for several days. Even with anti-viral treatment, the flu can put you out of commission for one week or longer, says Barnes-Durity. If you resume your normal activities much before that, you will not be able to perform at your best and spread your illness to your co-workers.
That’s why your best course of action is to get your flu shot now.