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. Heather Belle, a Primary Care doctor at NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Westchester, who explained what you should know about the flu and the vaccine.

What is the flu?

The flu, short for influenza, 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. That’s why 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. If you do not have one, call Dr. Belle at 914-787-4100.

Who should get the flu shot?

We recommend everyone to get the flu shot. Once a child is six months or older, they can receive the shot. It’s most important for children, the elderly, and anyone with a compromised immune system to get the vaccine because their immune systems aren’t necessarily strong enough to combat the virus.

When is the best time to get the flu shot?

It’s recommended to get vaccinated as soon as you can. You want to get the shot before the start of the flu season, which is from November through April. It 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 must get the flu vaccine now

Can you get the flu from the vaccine?

Fortunately, 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?

It is possible to get the flu even if you got the flu shot. However, getting the flu shot increases the odds of not getting the virus. If you do get the flu and you are vaccinated, often you see a shortened duration of the infection.

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. Heather Belle is a primary care doctor practicing with NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Westchester. Board certified in internal medicine, Dr. Belle graduated from Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and completed her residency at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. To make an appointment, call 914-787-4100.

At NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group Westchester, 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.