Flu season is almost here, so you’re probably wondering when to get the flu shot. For the young and old, this easily contagious illness is much more than a mere inconvenience. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that between 2012 and 2013, some 56,000 U.S. residents died from flu-associated illnesses. But that shouldn’t cause you to barricade yourself inside until spring reappears. Getting the flu shot early and practicing some basic daily hygiene techniques can help you avoid the flu this year.
When to Get the Flu Shot
What Is the Flu?
Most people have suffered through influenza (the flu) at least once in their lifetime, but not everyone understands the symptoms and potential severity of the flu. As the Mayo Clinic explains, “Influenza is a viral infection that attacks your respiratory system.” That includes your nose, throat, and lungs. Symptoms include fever, chills, muscle aches, cough, congestion, runny nose, headaches, and fatigue. The illness shouldn’t be confused with its cousin, the stomach flu. Symptoms of the stomach flu include diarrhea and vomiting.
While the flu can definitely land you in bed for a few days, the illness most often resolves itself. In some instances, however, it can be deadly. According to the Mayo Clinic, certain populations are at higher risk, including children younger than 5 and adults over the age of 65. Residents at nursing homes and long-term care facilities also have a higher risk of developing complications after developing the flu. Those dealing with chronic illnesses including asthma, heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, and liver disease are also at higher risk. In many cases, complications arise due to a weakened immune system. Be sure to consult your doctor if you notice you’re experiencing flu-like symptoms.
When Should I Get Vaccinated?
Wondering when to get the flu shot? According to the Centers for Disease Control, the best way to prevent the flu is to get a vaccine before flu season really begins because it can take almost two weeks for your body to develop the antibodies needed to protect itself against the flu. So when does flu season start? Well, that varies based on where you live. The CDC recommends getting the vaccine by the end of October. If you miss that deadline, you can still get the vaccine throughout flu season, but you will be at a higher risk of contacting the illness.
What Should I Do If I Have the Flu?
If you have the flu, focus on resting and drinking plenty of fluids. Wash your hands frequently, avoid public places, and cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough to avoid spreading the illness to others. You may wish to take some over-the-counter medicines (like acetaminophen, ibuprofen, and naproxen) to reduce your fever, cough, and any aches and pains. Your physician can answer any questions you have about symptoms and medications. If your symptoms do not resolve themselves within a day or two, consult your doctor. In addition, the CDC recommends staying home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone.
Learning how to protect yourself against the flu can help you enjoy the winter without worrying about becoming sick. Be sure to talk with your doctor if you have any questions, including concerns about symptoms of the flu and questions about when to get the flu shot.
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