As the change of seasons heralds cooler weather, it also means the start of flu season. The length of the flu season can vary, but usually begins in November and lasts until March or early April.
Here we cover common flu symptoms, possible side effects, vaccine recommendations, and answers to common flu-related questions.
Most common flu symptoms
When we talk about the flu (and the vaccine), we are referring to the illness caused by the flu virus. The flu is a respiratory virus not to be confused with the gastrointestinal microbes often referred to as the “stomach flu”. The most common flu symptoms include:
- Upper respiratory tract symptoms that may include a cough, congestion, or sore throat
A person is definitely considered contagious when symptoms are present, but they can potentially spread the flu before they even notice symptoms.
2022 flu vaccine recommendations
Each year, influenza vaccines are created based on predictions of influenza strains likely to be present during the upcoming influenza season. Although these vaccines are very effective, they are not always 100% correct.
“Predicting what flu season will bring is always a gamble,” says Stephen Mohring, MD, primary care physician at Nebraska Medicine. “As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves – especially as less use is made of wearing masks and practicing social distancing – we are concerned that we could see a bigger flu season this year. We recommend vaccination for protect yourself and your loved ones.”
Once you’re vaccinated, you get the full amount of protection after two weeks. Receiving the vaccine reduces your risk of getting the flu, the severity of symptoms, and the risk of passing the virus on to others.
Influenza vaccines are most effective in people under 65. For people over 65, the vaccine significantly reduces the risk of serious illness, helps keep more people out of hospital and reduces flu deaths.
What if I’m allergic to eggs?
There is an egg-free vaccine for people with an egg allergy. If your allergy is mild, you can safely receive the regular vaccine. If you have a severe allergy, talk to your doctor about getting the egg-free version.
How does the flu vaccine work?
The vaccine contains elements of the dead flu virus so that the immune system can respond to these specific proteins to make antibodies. When the immune system sees the virus in the future, it speeds up the antibody response to kill it faster.
When will the flu vaccine be available?
The flu shot is available now at local pharmacies and Nebraska medicine clinics through early spring. Our recommendation is to get it as soon as possible.
“The best time to get a flu shot is when the flu shot is available,” says Dr. Mohring. There is a two week time lag between vaccination and full protection. Therefore, we recommend getting it in the fall before you start seeing many patients getting sick.”
Rest assured, it is safe to receive the COVID-19 vaccine or booster at the same time as your flu vaccination.
What if I still seem to get sick after getting the flu shot?
You cannot get the flu with the flu shot, but you may experience mild side effects. It is common to experience tenderness at the injection site or mild symptoms for a day or two afterwards.
When you experience mild symptoms, remember that your immune system is doing what it’s designed to do: react to a foreign antigen and trigger the production of antibodies that will fight the flu in the future.
Common side effects include:
- General tiredness
- Injection site pain
- Sometimes a low fever
The doctor’s opinion? Think about the timing of your flu shot. Plan it around your life events in case you experience some side effects later on.
Who should not get the flu shot?
Patients with compromised immune systems should see their doctor to discuss their best options. People with a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome, certain autoimmune diseases, and sick people should avoid getting the flu shot.
How do I know if I have the flu or COVID-19?
Symptoms can be difficult to tell apart. If your symptoms last longer than a day or two, perform a home COVID-19 test or arrange to be tested. If your symptoms include fever and body aches, contact your doctor.
If you catch the flu (even if you’ve been vaccinated), call your doctor within 24 to 48 hours. Tamiflu is still available as a treatment option and should be started within the first few days of symptoms. Wait 24 hours after you are fever-free before returning to school or work. Keep yourself and others healthy by adopting healthy habits to prevent the flu and colds all season long.
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