It takes two weeks for your body to develop an immune response to the flu vaccine. The sooner you get a flu shot, the more protected you'll be.
Don’t Wait: Get Vaccinated Against the Flu
While the flu season generally starts in October, its peak period -- typically between December and February -- can put you at the greatest risk, especially when you’re traveling. According to Rohan Dang, MD, a family medicine doctor at Duke Primary Care Waverly Place, the flu vaccination is recommended from now until at least March.
“Many people carry the flu virus without realizing it, which is why it’s important to get an immunization to protect yourself,” Dr. Dang said. “If you’re generally healthy, you’re also taking a step to help protect your family, friends, and coworkers who might be more vulnerable to serious health problems from the flu than you are.”
While the flu vaccine is recommended for almost everyone, certain populations are more vulnerable -- for example, people over 65, young children, those with respiratory illnesses such as asthma, or illnesses that lower your immunity. People who have certain chronic diseases, such as severe asthma or an immune disorder, should talk with their doctors first.
No More Excuses
People have a variety of reasons for not getting a flu shot, but for the most part, Dr. Dang said, the benefits outweigh the concerns.
“People often mention that the vaccine may not work well, or that they know somebody who got a vaccine and still got the flu,” he said. It’s true that no vaccine can be 100% effective because experts prepare a new flu vaccine each year based on their scientific predictions of the virus strains that will strike. However, flu shots are proven to reduce your risk of getting the flu and may help reduce the severity of symptoms if you do get sick.
“This is your best bet to avoid getting sick,” said Dr. Dang. “That’s huge if it spares you five-to-seven days of severe illness, missed time at work, possibly serious or even life-threatening complications of the flu -- and reduces the risk of spreading it to other people.”
In the past, people with life-threatening egg allergies were told not to get the vaccine. However, there is now an egg-free flu vaccine specifically for people with egg allergies.
Pregnant women sometimes express concern about getting a flu shot, but they are actually more likely to suffer serious complications if they get the flu, and it's important for them to protect themselves.
If cost or convenience is holding you back, Dr. Dang said getting the flu vaccine is actually pretty easy. Doctor’s offices, pharmacies, clinics, and many workplaces may offer the vaccine at minimal or no cost.
See a Doctor If You Suffer Flu-Like Symptoms
Contact your doctor immediately if you do come down with flu-like symptoms, including fever, body aches, weakness, and respiratory and gastrointestinal symptoms that could range from an upset stomach to diarrhea and vomiting. You can make an appointment with your primary care doctor through Duke MyChart.
An in-person visit can confirm if you have the flu, and antiviral medication can shorten the duration of the illness. Getting treatment fast is important because the flu can lead to life-threatening infections, including pneumonia.
Even with anti-viral treatment, the flu can put you out of commission for one week or longer. If you get sick, Dr. Dang said to get lots of rest, drink lots of fluids, and eat foods that won’t upset your stomach. Home remedies like gargling with salt water for sore throat, drinking tea with ginger and honey for sore throat and cough, and doing sinus rinses with salt water for congestion can also help manage the symptoms.
Avoid Sickness; Get the Flu Shot
But to avoid all of those issues, the best course of action is to get your flu shot now.
"Because the flu strains change every year, unfortunately, you are not protected if you’ve had a vaccine or had the flu in the past,” Dr. Dang said. “Getting a yearly vaccine is the best option to help protect you and those around you.”