When winter comes, cold and flu season tags along with it. However, many people question whether or not they should be vaccinated, which often leads to hesitation or outright abstinence from getting their flu shot. The reason for this hesitation varies from person to person, but often stems from lack of information. That is why we at Smith-Caldwell Drug Store have written this guide to explain what the vaccine is, how it works, and who it is for.
What Is the Flu?
The “flu” is short for influenza, an extremely contagious illness caused by viruses. According to the Center for Disease Control, the flu affects 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population each year, particularly in winter and early spring. When you contract the flu, it becomes a viral infection of the respiratory tract that causes many of the same symptoms as a cold (fever, coughing, runny nose, and sore throat). However, influenza is much more severe.
In extreme cases, the flu can lead to life-threatening illnesses such as pneumonia. Some people are more at risk of contracting the flu than others, particularly infants, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with chronic ailments like diabetes or heart disease.
The Flu Vaccine: What It Is & How It Works
The flu vaccine is a seasonal vaccine which protects you against influenza viruses. Every year, the vaccine is slightly different, because the flu virus also changes slightly from year to year. Doctors adapt the vaccine each year according to research that predicts what the most common flu viruses will be in the upcoming season. The flu vaccine typically comes in a flu shot or nasal spray flu vaccine.
The vaccine takes about two weeks to come into full effect. During that time, it triggers certain responses in your body that get it ready to fight infection. Chief among these responses is the production of antibodies, cells produced by the immune system that will fight the flu virus when exposed to it.
Can I Get Vaccinated and Still Get the Flu?
Because the flu vaccine takes about two weeks to start working, it is possible to catch the flu virus after getting the shot. While the vaccine cannot cause the flu or make you more likely to get it, it does not 100 percent protect you against contracting influenza. You can get sick even if you get a flu shot; however, you will likely have a milder illness than if you did not get the vaccine at all. You can get vaccinated by simply visiting a pharmacy with flu shots.
What Happens When You Get the Flu
When you contract the flu virus, you get very sick, very quickly. The symptoms will resemble those of the common cold, but will likely be more severe. You will likely experience congestion, sore throat, and sneezing. On top of that, you may experience coughing, headache, and chest discomfort. Particularly with the flu, you will also likely run a high fever for several days, accompanied by body aches, fatigue, and weakness.
Unfortunately, because it is a viral infection, antibiotics cannot be used to treat the flu virus. Antibiotics only work on bacterial infections, and will only be effective if there is a secondary bacterial infection. This is one of the many reasons why getting a flu shot is so important. You can get vaccinated by visiting a pharmacy with flu vaccinations, like Smith-Caldwell Drug Store.
Who Should (and Should NOT) get the Flu Shot
Flu shots are recommended for most everyone, especially for those at high risk of getting the flu. That said, there are certain people who should abstain from getting vaccinated. Read the sections below to find out if you fit into one of these groups.
Who Is at High Risk of Getting the Flu
Infants, the elderly, pregnant women, and people with chronic ailments such as diabetes or heart disease have a higher risk of contracting the flu, and are highly recommended to get the vaccine. There are different shots for people of different ages, and everyone should get a vaccine that is appropriate for their age. There is even a vaccine for children as young as 6 months.
Who Should NOT Get the Flu Shot
There are two populations of people who should NOT get the flu shot:
- Children under 6 months of age.
- People with severe or life-threatening allergies to the flu vaccine or any ingredient in it.
How to Prevent the Flu
You can prevent the flu in two basic ways: taking steps to avoid contraction from other people, and boosting your immune system.
Avoid Contracting the Flu
Preventing yourself from contracting a contagious illness is all about hygiene. The flu virus is transmitted through droplets from the infected person’s respiratory system. When that person coughs or sneezes, these droplets can come into contact with a nearby surface or person. If the droplets come into contact with your eyes or nose, you could contract the virus.
Here are some extra steps you can take during cold and flu season to keep yourself safe:
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Do not touch your nose, eyes or mouth without washing your hands.
- Wash and disinfect surfaces frequently, especially those used by multiple people, such as phones or keyboards.
- Try to avoid crowds during cold and flu season.
How to Boost Your Immune System During Cold & Flu Season
Staying healthy during cold and flu season is particularly important. Get regular exercise and eat lots of healthy foods such as leafy greens, citrus fruits, and dark green or red vegetables.
Not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight also keeps your immune system strong, as does drinking less alcohol. Getting enough sleep plays a key role in keeping yourself healthy, as well.
Where Can I Get the Flu Shot?
You can get the flu vaccine at a pharmacy that carries flu shots, like the Smith-Caldwell Drug Store. Our compounding pharmacy offers flu vaccines to protect you this flu season. We are open Monday-Saturday 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., and Sunday 10 a.m. 7 p.m., with a 24-hour emergency service. Call us at 501-392-5470 to get your flu vaccine.