Arm Yourself this Flu Season

The 2018-2019 flu season was the longest in 10 years, infecting more than 41 million Americans and causing more than 57,000 flu-related deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While the exact timing varies, flu activity usually peaks between December and February. The single best way to prevent the flu is to get the vaccine as soon as you can, before you come in contact with someone with the flu.We spoke with Dr. Michael Ford, a Primary Care doctor at NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Hudson Valley, who explained what you should know about the flu and the vaccine.

What is the flu?

The flu, short for influenza, is a contagious respiratory viral infection caused by influenza viruses. It is a rapidly evolving virus that changes every year because its genes are constantly making small changes. Therefore, every year, a new vaccine is created based on the new viruses. So it’s important to get vaccinated each year.

How does the flu differ from a cold?

The flu and cold are both respiratory illnesses, but different viruses cause them. The flu has more intense symptoms that often come on more suddenly. However, they have similar symptoms, so it can be difficult to tell the difference.
Flu symptoms include:

  • Cough
  • Headache
  • Fever and chills
  • Muscle and body aches
  • Fatigue and weakness

If you think you feel flu symptoms, call your doctor.

Who should get the flu shot?

The simple answer is virtually everybody. The flu shot is approved for people aged six months and older. For babies that are younger than six months, we recommend everyone who comes in contact with that baby — their parents, babysitters, and siblings — get the vaccine. This will create cocoon immunity, in which those in close contact with infants and other vulnerable individuals protect them from infectious diseases like the flu.

When is the best time to get the flu shot?

It’s recommended to get vaccinated as soon as you can, before we start seeing the flu circulating in the community. It also takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to reach effectiveness in the body. So, for your body to be protected once the flu hits your community, you should schedule an appointment to get the flu vaccine now.

Can you get the flu from the vaccine?

No, you can’t get the flu from the vaccine. However, common side effects include soreness or redness at the injection site, fever, or an all-over achy feeling the next day.

Can you still get the flu even if you get vaccinated?

Although you can still get the flu if you have had the vaccine, it reduces the odds you will catch the flu, and can minimize the severity of your illness. The flu vaccine is not 100 percent effective. Vaccines are created based on identified strains of the virus. Usually, they are well-matched, but the virus rapidly changes.

Some people who get the flu shot may get the flu because they have been exposed before getting vaccinated. Or, they could have gotten exposed within those two weeks after they got vaccinated, but before the vaccine became effective.

If you get the flu, what should you do to avoid spreading it to others?

If you are sick, it is important to protect your family and friends. You can do this by staying home from work, school, or other activities. It’s best to cough or sneeze into your elbow and not your hand. Or, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when sneezing or coughing, and then throw the tissue out. If you do sneeze into your hand, you should wash your hands for at least 30 seconds with soap and water or use hand sanitizer.

In addition to the vaccine, what else should people do to prevent the flu?

Practicing good health habits — like eating healthy, exercising often, and getting enough sleep — is a great way to prevent flu. In addition to covering your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze, you should avoid close contact with people who are sick, keep your hands clean, and avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. You should also make sure to clean and disinfect surfaces in your home that are frequently touched.

In general, it is important to get enough sleep, exercise, and manage your stress. A nutritious diet is also essential for overall health. Although consuming high levels of vitamin C — either through food or high-dose vitamin C tablets or powders — has been proven ineffective for immediate symptom relief, a well-nourished immune system fueled by vitamins and antioxidants is better able to fight off infection.

Schedule an appointment to get your flu shot today. Dr. Michael E. Ford is a primary care doctor practicing with NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Hudson Valley. He is an assistant attending physician at NewYork-Presbyterian and assistant professor of medicine in the department of internal medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. Dr. Ford has been practicing as an internist for over a decade and is actively involved in internal medicine research. To make an appointment, call 914-610-4640.

At NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Hudson Valley, our doctors include primary care, OB/GYN, cardiology, orthopedics and more, and offer same-day, early, late and weekend appointments. To find a physician close to home, search here or or call 914-787-2200.