POV: Avoid the flu and colds this season

Advice for dodging the flu and steering clear of colds this season
October 16, 2019

Cold and flu season is upon us, which means now is the time for you and your family to get flu shots (while you’re at it, use the opportunity to catch up on all needed vaccinations). If you’re hesitant to get the flu vaccine, here are some common questions—and their answers—to help you make the right choice.

What is the flu?

Influenza (flu) is a viral infection spread from person to person. Most respiratory diseases like influenza are spread from children to adults. Most people with flu have a temperature of 100.6 or higher, headache and body aches in addition to cold symptoms of congestion, cough and sore throat.

How can I tell if it’s flu or a cold?

Both colds and flu start with congestion, cough, sore throat and a feeling of being sick. However, flu takes it to the next level with headaches, fever and body aches.

Why is the flu dangerous?

Usually people with influenza feel better in a few days, but sometimes flu goes on to cause ear infections, sinus infections and pneumonia. These complications can be dangerous and even deadly. The very young, very old and persons with chronic diseases are most vulnerable to influenza and its complications.

How is the flu treated?

The best treatment is prevention. You and your family should receive yearly influenza immunizations. If you do develop symptoms of influenza (fever, headache, body aches), call or visit your health care provider right away. Oseltamivir (commonly known as Tamiflu), when started early, can shorten the symptoms and reduce the risk of complications.

Who should receive flu vaccine?

All persons six months and older should receive yearly flu vaccine. It is especially important for high risk groups including children under age 5, persons over age 50, those with chronic diseases such as high blood pressure or diabetes, persons with cancer or with compromised immune systems, nursing home residents and pregnant women to get the vaccine.

Does handwashing help to prevent colds and flu?

Yes! Good hygiene is always important, and handwashing is especially crucial. For the best clean, wash with soap and water for 20 seconds, which is about how long it takes to slowly sing the “Alphabet Song.” Good handwashing can reduce absences from school or work due to colds and flu by almost half. Alcohol-based hand sanitizer may be used if soap and water is unavailable.

 When should I wash my hands?

Wash your hands before and after preparing food, eating food, before and after caring for someone who is sick and after treating a cut or wound. Also, wash your hands after using the toilet, changing diapers as well as cleaning up a child, blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing or touching garbage.

I’ve heard that the flu shot can give you the flu.

The flu vaccine is made from proteins extracted from the flu virus. It cannot cause influenza. About one or two in a hundred people who get the vaccine will develop a low-grade fever. The most common side effects are soreness or redness at the injection site.

Who should not get a flu shot?

You should not get a flu shot if you are younger than six months of age (and your mother is reading this to you). Also, persons with severe egg allergy (that is, they develop hives after exposure to eggs) should not get the flu vaccine. If you are running a fever of 100.6 or higher, you should delay your flu shot until you are better. If you are not sure, talk to your health care provider.

When should I get my flu shot?

The best time to get your flu shot is October or November, but flu vaccine can be given as late as April and still be effective.

Is there a high dose vaccine for older persons?

The high-dose vaccine has four times the antigen of regular flu vaccine. It is only for persons 65 years and older. The manufacturer intends the vaccine to give a better immune response for older people; however, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not necessarily recommend the high-dose vaccine over other vaccines. The CDC states that any of the available flu vaccines will give good protection against the flu.

What is your advice for flu season?

  • Get your flu shot
  • Use good hygiene
  • Do the basics:
  1. Eat a well-balanced diet
  2. Get enough rest
  3. Exercise
  4. Cross your fingers

James Mobley, MD, MPH, FAAFP POV AuthorSubscriber
Medical director of Texas A&M Healthy South Texas

In his role as medical director at Healthy South Texas, James Mobley, MD, MPH, FAAFP, oversees the clinical practice of the diabetes care team and ensures accurate and effective delivery of health care information on diabetes, asthma and infectious diseases.
He is also president of the Medical Arts Clinic in Portland, Texas, and health authority of the San Patricio County Department of Public Health in Sinton, Texas.

— James Mobley, MD, MPH, FAAFP

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