It’s that time of year again to start making preparations for the flu season, which can begin as early as October and last as late as May.
Influenza, the name of the virus for which the “flu” season is named, causes a highly contagious respiratory infection that often starts very quickly and may cause the following symptoms:
– Fever, headache and extreme fatigue
– Cough, sore throat and runny or stuffy nose
– Body aches and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea
The flu can cause mild to severe illness and occasionally can lead to death. Most healthy people who contract the flu recover without complications. However, some people, especially the elderly and the very young, as well as those with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and asthma, are at a high risk for serious complications of the flu. One of the most deadly side effects of the flu is pneumonia, which is a very serious lung infection.
The flu usually spreads from person to person via respiratory droplets when someone who is ill coughs or sneezes. It also often spreads when a person touches some object that has the influenza virus on it and then touches the mouth, nose or eyes.
A person coming down with the flu is contagious from one day before any symptoms appear and remains contagious for up to five days after the symptoms begin.
The best way to prevent getting influenza is to get a flu vaccination. The vaccine is approved for use in people older than 6 months of age. Almost everyone can benefit from the flu shot, but it is highly recommended for the following groups:
– Pregnant women and children younger than 5 years
– People 50 years of age and older and those with chronic medical conditions
– Those who live in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities
– People who work or live with those at high risk for complications of the flu
The flu shot contains a dead virus which, when injected via a needle in the arm, will cause a person’s immune system to create antibodies to help prevent one from getting infected. This vaccine cannot give anyone the flu, but it can cause side effects of soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site, low-grade fever and aches. These side effects are usually very mild and last only a few days. In extremely rare instances, a severe reaction may occur, as is possible with any vaccination or medical procedure. Don’t get vaccinated if you have a severe allergy to chicken eggs, have ever had a bad reaction to a flu shot or are ill with a fever.
Flu shots are already available at many doctors’ offices and also are being conveniently provided by the local pharmacies CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid for about $30 cash, with Medicare and some private insurance accepted.
I think of the flu shot as being a form of cheap health insurance. I’ve already gotten mine and hope that you will, too.