It’s Not Too Late to Protect Yourself from Flu

**By Uma Malhotra, MD**

Nurse gives flu shot vaccine to patient at pharmacy.Flu activity is increasing in Washington state this month, after a sharp increase across the country around mid-December. Did you get your flu shot? If not, do it now – it’s not too late. Flu season usually peaks in January or February and extends into springtime, even as late as May.

Getting an annual flu vaccine is still the best way to protect yourself and your family from the flu. When illness from flu is reduced, so are doctors’ visits, missed work, school absences and serious complications that can lead to hospitalization. More people getting vaccinated means more people are protected from flu.

What is flu?

Flu is a respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses and people of all ages can get it.

Symptoms of the flu

Symptoms of the flu can include fever, chills, body aches, sore throat, cough, stuffy nose, headache, weakness and fatigue. Vomiting and diarrhea are less common symptoms that mostly affect children. It is also important to remember that not everyone has all the symptoms. For example, some people do not develop a fever.

How sick do people get with the flu?

Some people with the flu get very sick. Many require hospitalization and some die. Those who get very sick are often younger than five years old, or older than 65. People with chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, asthma and kidney disease – as well as pregnant woman and those in the postpartum period – can also get very sick.

How does flu spread?

People with the flu can spread the virus by sneezing or coughing, causing the release of droplets, which may be inhaled by others nearby. Touching a contaminated surface – like an infected person’s hand, a table or doorknob – and then touching your nose or mouth can also spread the virus.

When are people contagious? 

Most people are infectious starting one day prior to noticing symptoms, and up to five to seven days after symptoms begin. However, young children and those who are severely ill may shed the virus for longer periods.

Benefits of the flu vaccine
  • In most years the vaccine reduces the risk for getting the flu by about half.
  • Those who contract the flu despite the vaccine frequently experience a milder illness.
  • Vaccine reduces the risk of flu-associated hospitalization and mortality, which can be high among the very young, older adults and those with chronic health conditions.
  • Getting vaccinated during pregnancy not only protects the mother but also protects the baby for several months after birth, since antibodies from the mother are transmitted to the fetus via the placenta.
When and how often should you get vaccinated?

Everyone six months and older should get a flu vaccine every year by the end of October, if possible, but getting it later is still highly recommended. You can get a flu shot from your primary care provider, neighborhood pharmacy or by contacting your local public health department. Some young children might need two doses of vaccine. A health care provider can advise on how many doses a child should get.

Besides the shot, how can flu be prevented? 
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick and if you are sick, stay home.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze.
  • Wash hands often and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Clean and disinfect often-used surfaces, especially when someone is sick.
  • Get plenty of restful sleep, do regular aerobic activity and take steps to ease stress.
  • Drink plenty of non-alcoholic fluids and eat a well-balanced diet.

Uma Malhotra, MD, is board certified in Internal Medicine with a subspecialty in Infectious Dr. Uma MalhotraDisease. Her special interests include general infectious diseases, infections in immunocompromised patients, travel medicine and caring for patients with HIV. Dr. Malhotra practices at Virginia Mason Hospital and Seattle Medical Center (206-341-0846), where she is also medical director of Employee Health.




  1. Beverly Hagar says:

    Thanks Uma, great article! Bev

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