October 30, 2019

The Annual Flu Shot: Should You Get It?

General Health

Each year, you may wonder if the flu shot is really necessary and when asking around you will get all kinds of opinions. But if you ask your health care provider, the answer will probably be yes.

Here are some common questions and concerns about the flu shot with the latest information from the CDC to help you decide if you should get the flu shot this year.

1. What exactly is the flu?

Most people use the term “flu” loosely to describe colds (with coughs and runny noses) and stomach bugs (with vomiting and diarrhea) such as Norovirus. But the real flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It has different symptoms than a cold and can be much more severe. Take a look at a comparison between cold and flu symptoms:

2. Who cares if I get the flu- Is it really that bad?

It definitely can be! If you’ve ever had the flu, you know that a mild case can make you too achy and sick to leave your bed for days. A severe case can lead to hospitalization or even death. In fact, there are over 200,000 hospitalizations each year from influenza.

Some people are more vulnerable to the virus and experience more serious symptoms than others. For these groups of people, the flu can be “really that bad”:

  • Older people
  • Young children
  • Pregnant women
  • People with asthma
  • Diabetics
  • People with HIV/AIDS
  • People fighting cancer

When you get the flu, you can pass it on to them, and they are at high risk of severe flu complications. Even if you welcome the flu, getting vaccinated reduces the likelihood that you will become infected and spread the virus to others.

3. Do I need a flu shot EVERY year?

Because influenza is a tough virus, it has a habit of changing…often. That means that the immunity you built up last year might not help a lot this year. Plus, immunity from the flu vaccination does not last as long as other immunizations (such as tetanus). For both of those reasons, an annual flu shot is the best way to protect yourself and those around you.

4. If I get the flu, can’t I just take something for it?

Since the flu is a virus (not a bacteria), antibiotics will not help. There are antiviral medications available, but most people with flu have mild enough symptoms that antiviral drugs and medical care are not necessary. If you have symptoms and are in a high-risk group, or are very sick and worried about your illness, contact your health care provider. They might choose to prescribe an antiviral medication to help. Here are some things to know:

  • Antiviral drugs can treat the flu by making your illness milder and by shortening the time you are sick. Also, they can prevent serious flu complications, like pneumonia.
  • Antivirals are not antibiotics.
  • Flu antivirals are prescription medicines that are not available over-the-counter.
  • Antiviral drugs work best when they are started within two days of getting sick, so call your provider as soon as you experience symptoms.
  • However, starting them later can still help, especially if you have a high-risk health condition or are very sick from the flu (for example, hospitalized patients). So, if you miss the 2-day window, still call your provider to see if antivirals will help.
  • Most otherwise-healthy people who get the flu, do not need to be treated with antiviral drugs.

5. Do I really need a flu shot?

Your health care provider will say, “Yes!” The flu shot is the best way to protect yourself and those around you from having severe complications from the flu. So, be kind to yourself and get a flu shot this year…and every year!

6. Where do I get a flu shot this year?

If you still need to get a flu shot this year, there are several options available:

  1. Schedule a flu shot at your Fort HealthCare Clinic by calling or using MyCompass.
  2. For school-age children, attend one of the Jefferson County Health Department clinics. For an updated schedule with locations, visit their Facebook page and look at their upcoming events: www.facebook.com/JeffersonCountyHealth/
  3. Visit your local pharmacy. Most offer flu shots.

For more information about this year’s flu season and vaccinations, go to cdc.gov/flu