The Flu Vaccine is the Best Defense Against the Influenza Virus

Nicolas Nguyen, MD

OCTOBER 16, 2018

Every year beginning around October, we find ourselves plunged into another flu season. Healthcare organizations ramp up communications; signs appear outside of neighborhood pharmacies; health centers promote public flu vaccine sessions; and almost half of the US population typically decides to get vaccinated.

It is important to realize how serious the flu can be. Influenza, or the flu, is an acute viral infection characterized by the abrupt onset of high fever, malaise, body aches, and often headache. These symptoms are often accompanied by cough, sore throat and nasal discharge. The flu causes missed days of work and the inability to care for family and oneself. The symptoms caused by the flu have a varied duration depending on the individual affected. Some people may recover in as little as 5 days, while others may have a prolonged course of 7-10 days, or even longer.

The flu vaccine is therefore very important both on an individual and community level. The goal is to prevent people from getting sick and from spreading the illness to others. Side effects are rare and most people will not get sick from the vaccine itself.

The high risk populations who should get the flu vaccine each year include:

  • Children under 2 years old (but over the age of 6 months)
  • Elderly
  • Patients with chronic medical conditions 
  • Immunocompromised patients
  • Pregnant women

Keep in mind, the flu vaccination is recommended for everyone over 6 months of age - not just high-risk people. Healthcare workers and children are highly advised to receive the vaccine as well.

If you do catch the flu, it’s important that you contact your health care team within 48 hours as you may be a candidate for anti-flu medications. In general, antivirals are mainly recommended for those who need it the most, such as high risk populations. Your health care professional can discuss this with you to decide if antivirals are necessary in your case.

But again, it’s always better to prevent than to wait until you are sick. So the flu vaccine is always the preferred way to go.

If you do get the flu, get plenty of rest, keep hydrated, and treat symptoms with medications, such as for high fever. The flu is highly contagious and is spread by respiratory droplets from sneezing, coughing, and talking, so you should not go to work or public places if you are feeling sick.

Here are some steps you can take to help protect yourself from getting the flu:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with people exhibiting flu-like symptoms.
  • Practice good health habits. Get plenty of sleep and exercise, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat healthy food.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • If you are sick with flu-like illness, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine.

Talk to you doctor about getting the flu vaccine. It is the best defense against the flu.

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.