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Cold weather is upon us—and, unfortunately, so is flu season. The flu, which is most common in the fall and winter, is a contagious respiratory illness that’s caused by a virus called influenza. The most common symptoms of the flu include:
- Body aches
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Sore throat
- Vomiting (mostly in children)
While anyone can develop the flu, the people most at risk include:
- People who have a compromised immune system, due to conditions such as HIV or AIDS
- People with chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, or lung disease
- Pregnant women
- Seniors (65 years of age and older)
The number one way to prevent the flu is to get a flu shot. In fact, studies show that the flu shot reduces the risk of flu-associated hospital visits for adults by about 40 percent and reduces flu-related pediatric intensive care unit admissions by 74 percent. Moreover, the flu shot is associated with lower rates of some cardiac events, or incidents that may cause damage to the heart, among individuals with heart disease—especially those who have experienced a cardiac event in the past year.
How the Flu Shot Works and When Should You Get It
Flu shots are effective because they protect against infection by incorporating the virus into the vaccine, causing your body to develop antibodies. Most flu vaccines in the U.S. protect you against a variety of different flu viruses that are identified as the most common at the time.
Different vaccines may be recommended depending on your age and situation, so make sure to speak to your doctor if you have any questions regarding which vaccine is best for you.
Anyone six months or older should receive an annual flu shot. Try scheduling your flu shot by the end of October, if possible, as it takes about two weeks after the shot for antibodies to develop in your body and provide protection against the flu.
Getting your #flushot by the end of October is a good idea, as it takes about two weeks after the shot for antibodies to develop in the body and protect you against the #flu. Learn more about staying healthy this #fluseason, via @MedStarHealth
Other Flu Prevention Tips
Although the flu shot is by far the best way to avoid the flu, the following tips can also help decrease your chance for developing it:
- Avoid regularly touching your mouth, nose, and eyes: This is how the flu most easily spreads, especially after you touch surfaces that contain traces of the flu virus.
- Wash your hands: When you regularly wash your hands with soap and water or alcohol wipes, you wash away traces of the flu virus after you’ve come in contact with it.
- Drink water: Water can help strengthen your immune system, which helps you avoid developing the flu. I recommend drinking about eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day.
How to Treat the Flu
If you develop the flu, we generally suggest you get plenty of rest and drink a lot of fluids to stay hydrated. If you are experiencing a fever, we would suggest that you take over-the-counter fever and pain medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.
If you are sick with the flu, antiviral drugs can help fight against the flu viruses in your body. These drugs work best when started within two days of getting sick with the flu. While you’re taking the medication, we typically recommend you stay away from work or school until you’ve fully recovered. This way, you don’t spread the flu to colleagues or friends.
In most cases, symptoms of the flu hit you extremely fast. And there’s no common sequence in terms of when symptoms develop. As a result, it’s important to see your doctor as soon as you begin developing these symptoms. Visit a MedStar Health Urgent Care or your primary care provider.
Although flu is an extremely common condition, you can significantly reduce your chances of developing it by getting a flu shot. Make sure to reach out to your doctor if you have any questions about the flu shot or the flu, in general.