October 13, 2017 / Michael M. Siegel M.D.
Year after year, we hear about the dangers of flu season. Why? Is the flu really such a big deal?
In a word: yes.
Thousands of people die from the flu each year, and tens of thousands more are killed by flu-related illnesses. Articles about it keep popping up because it’s crucial to stay safe.
Luckily, there are easy ways to reduce your chances of catching the flu—and we’re making them even easier. Because we’ve put everything you should know about staying safe right here in one place. To quickly learn all you need to avoid getting sick, read on.
What is the flu? How do I know if I have it?
The flu—short for influenza—is a contagious respiratory virus. The most common flu symptoms include:
How does the flu spread?
Most experts believe when a sick person coughs, sneezes or talks, they spray droplets onto the mouths or noses of others, or onto surfaces people put their hands on before touching their own mouths, noses or eyes. You can pass the flu along before you know you have it, as well as while you’re sick. Symptoms start one to four days after exposure, usually by day two.
Who can catch it?
Everyone can get the flu. But some people especially susceptible: children age five or younger, older adults, pregnant women and those with other medical conditions.
What can I do to prevent it?
By far, the most effective method of flu prevention is a flu vaccination, also known as a flu shot. It’s recommended that everyone over six months old get one. You may have heard that a flu shot can make you sick—this is absolutely false, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In fact, flu shots are your greatest defense against illness.
How effective is the flu vaccine?
The effectiveness varies each year. In 2016, the flu shot was about 50% effective. But even if you catch the flu after getting a shot, it can reduce how severity of your illness.
When should I take action?
Flu season is from October to May, peaking between December and February. The flu shot will be the same all season, so it’s good to get one as soon as you can.
Are there other ways to avoid the flu?
Of course! It also helps to wash your hands often. Avoid being near people who are infected, and stay home when you’re sick, so you won’t infect others. Break the habit of touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Clean and disinfect everything that may be contaminated with flu germs. And use a tissue every time you sneeze or cough, then throw it way.
Anything else I should know?
Yes! According to NBC News/KING TV, experts are predicting an especially severe flu season this time around—partly because many people skipped the flu shot last year! Don’t contribute to the problem. Protect yourself and others. Get a flu shot!