Each year, between 9 and 35 million people will come down with the flu. As a mutating virus, this illness can quickly spread through communities and result in severe complications. This flu season, protect yourself and others by getting vaccinated.
When to get your flu shot
Flu season typically varies by location, but in most parts of the United States, it tends to occur during the fall and winter months. The exact timing and duration can fluctuate from year to year, but flu season has begun starting as early as September. The peak of flu season usually occurs during the winter months—typically between December and February—when the highest number of flu cases are reported. Flu activity can continue into the late winter and early spring, typically tapering off by April or May. However, some cases may still occur beyond this timeframe.
What are the benefits of getting a flu shot?
- Flu prevention: The primary benefit is protection against the flu virus. Flu shots contain inactivated flu viruses, which stimulate the immune system to build resistance. This reduces your chances of contracting the flu.
- Reduced severity: If you do get the flu despite vaccination, the symptoms are often less severe and of shorter duration. Flu shots can prevent serious complications that may lead to hospitalization or even death.
- Herd immunity: By getting vaccinated, you contribute to herd immunity. This means that when a significant portion of the population is immune, the flu virus has a harder time spreading. It helps protect vulnerable groups who cannot be vaccinated, such as infants and individuals with certain medical conditions.
- Protection for high-risk groups: Flu shots are particularly important for high-risk groups, including the elderly, young children, pregnant women, and people with chronic health conditions. Vaccination reduces their risk of severe illness.
Side effects of a flu shot
Getting a flu shot is generally safe and well-tolerated. Most people experience few or mild side effects. Common side effects of a flu shot may include:
- Sore arm: It's normal to have some soreness, redness, or swelling at the injection site. This usually goes away on its own within a day or two.
- Low-grade fever: Some individuals, especially children, may develop a low-grade fever in the day or two after receiving the flu shot. This is a mild and temporary reaction.
- Fatigue: Feeling tired or experiencing mild fatigue is a common side effect. It typically lasts for a short period.
- Headache: Occasionally, people may have a mild headache after getting a flu shot. This usually resolves quickly.
- Muscle aches: Some individuals may experience mild muscle aches or body aches, particularly in the arms or legs.
- Runny nose or congestion: A runny nose or mild congestion can occur as a rare side effect.
It's essential to consult with your St. Joseph Health primary care provider before getting a flu shot if you have a history of severe allergic reactions to vaccines or any of the vaccine's components. They can help assess your risk and recommend the most appropriate course of action. For the vast majority of people, the benefits of flu vaccination in preventing influenza and its complications far outweigh the risk of minor side effects.
How you can stop the spread of the flu
There are a number of steps you can take to stop the spread of germs as well as the flu virus. Always cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and wash your hands frequently. It’s a good idea to regularly disinfect surfaces that your hands touch, such as doorknobs, your cell phone, and your work area.
- Avoid close contact: Stay away from individuals who are sick, and if you are feeling unwell, try to keep a distance from others to prevent spreading the virus.
- Stay home when sick: If you have flu-like symptoms, such as fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, and fatigue, it's crucial to stay home from work, school, and public places until you have recovered and are symptom-free for at least 24 hours.
- Wear a mask: During flu season, wearing a mask, especially in crowded or indoor settings, can help reduce the spread of the virus. Masks are particularly important if you are sick.
- Promote vaccination: Encourage family members, friends, and colleagues to get their flu shots. The more people who are vaccinated, the harder it is for the virus to spread in the community.
Make an appointment with your St. Joseph and Texas A&M Health Network primary care physician to get this year’s flu shot. If you do come down with the flu, you can trust the doctors at St. Joseph Health to get you back to good health.