Hit Me With Your Best Shot: 4 Reasons to Consider Getting Your Flu Shot This Year

**By Christopher Baliga, MD**

The flu is a contagious disease caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs, causing mild to severe illness and, in extreme cases, can lead to death. Fortunately, there is a way to mitigate both your own risk from the flu and the risk of those around you, too – enter the annual flu shot. These influenza viruses tend to mutate year-after-year, meaning that every flu season is different and warrants a new vaccine each year.

The CDC estimates that in the U.S., flu season can begin as early as October and as late as May, and is most rampant between December and February. The ideal time to get your flu shot is in the weeks leading up to the start of flu season but can still be effective if received later than this.

Whether we like it or not, flu season is right around the corner. Read on for four reasons why you should consider getting your flu shot this year.

It can lower your risk of contracting the flu

I’ll start with the obvious – getting your annual flu shot is your best defense against catching the dreaded flu as it allows your body to harbor and build up the necessary antibodies to protect against each new strain. According to the CDC, when the vaccine viruses are similar to the viruses going around, flu shots have proven to reduce the risk of flu-related doctor visits by 40-60%.

 It’s important to note that while the flu shot doesn’t guarantee full protection, it’s still worth getting.

It reduces the severity of flu-related illness

How your body responds to each flu shot varies from person to person. For example, it tends to be more effective for people under the age of 65, as older folks may develop less immunity after receiving it than their younger counterparts.

But, even if the shot doesn’t completely prevent the flu, it can still weaken the severity of illness if you do end up catching it. It can also lower your risk of developing serious complications that could eventually lead to hospitalization. And naturally, reducing the severity of flu-related illness can also lead to fewer hospitalizations on a macro level.

Getting vaccinated helps protect those around you, too

Receiving a flu shot allows you to play a role in protecting those around you who may be more vulnerable to serious flu-related illness, such as young children, older people and those with chronic medical conditions. It helps train your immune system to fight these nasty germs, which in turn diminishes your risk of transmitting them to those around you.

The flu is expected to have a nasty return post-COVID

Thanks to masks, social distancing and heightened hand hygiene across the U.S. amid COVID-19, other germs were kept at bay – including the flu. But, as these preventive measures begin to ease up, cold and flu viruses are expected to make a nasty return, making this year’s vaccine more important than ever before. Getting your flu vaccine at the same time as your COVID-19 vaccine? No problem – it is safe to get both.

Now that summer has come and gone, it’s time to shift attention to protecting ourselves, and those around us, from the flu’s return by receiving a flu shot. If you’re unsure of where to go for this, check out the HealthMap Vaccine Finder or talk to your doctor.


Christopher Baliga, MD is board-certified in Internal Medicine, with a subspecialty in infectious diseases, and currently practices at Virginia Mason Medical Center. He also specializes in travel health and HIV/AIDS care.

Yes, You Need a Flu Shot This Year — And Here’s Why

**By Christopher Baliga, MD**

Flu season is fast approaching, which means it may be harder for you to tell the difference between a flu symptom and symptoms associated with COVID-19. Those affected with either illness have the potential to run a fever, feel sluggish, and develop a cough and body aches. The good news is, you can protect yourself and others from both diseases by wearing your mask and getting a flu vaccination.

With so many myths and rumors floating around about whether the flu shot is necessary this year, it’s important to listen only to medical experts on this matter. We’re here to provide the facts you need to help keep yourself and those around you healthy.

Since I wear a mask, do I still need a flu shot?

Yes. While masks are helpful in reducing the spread of pathogens, they are not as effective for preventing the flu. By combining mask wearing with  the flu shot, you will lower your risk of catching the flu while protecting yourself from COVID-19 and other respiratory viruses. Just as important, getting a flu shot means you are less likely to spread the disease to others.

Flu.signWon’t a flu shot increase my chances of catching the coronavirus?

There is no evidence to suggest that getting a flu shot will impact your risk of contracting COVID-19. But what we know for certain is that a flu shot will reduce your risk of getting the flu.

Does wearing a mask protect my immune system?

Wearing a mask has no effect on your immune system itself. It does reduce your risk of catching COVID-19 by up to 80%, but wearing a mask does not change your immune system on its own.

Some of us might remember the days when people were opposed to government mandates requiring the use of seatbelts in cars. Similarly, we’ve seen pushback against wearing masks in public. Just like wearing your seatbelt can save your life, masks help reduce your chances of catching COVID-19, while the flu shot reduces your risk of contracting the flu (or reduces the severity of illness if you do get sick). But unlike a seatbelt which only really protects you, masking and getting a flu shot also helps protect those around you.

If you’re in search of where to get a flu shot this year, consider visiting a Virginia Mason drive-thru/drive-up location, open through Oct. 23. Find more information on the location closest to you here.


Baliga, ChrisChristopher Baliga, MD, is board-certified by the American Academy of Internal Medicine in infectious diseases and internal medicine. He practices at Virginia Mason Seattle Medical Center. Dr. Baliga specializes in infectious diseases, HIV/AIDS care and travel health. 

Don’t Wait — Get Your Flu Shot Now

 

Visit one of Virginia Mason’s walk-in flu clinic locations, open now through Nov. 30.

What’s one of the best ways to stay healthy this holiday season? Get your flu shot. Flu activity is expected to increase in the coming weeks, so now’s the time for everyone – six months old and older – to get the new vaccine for 2019-2020.

Getting an annual flu shot 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.

Flu.signCan flu vaccine give you the flu?

No, you can’t get the flu from getting the flu shot. All forms of flu vaccine are made from parts of the virus that can’t reproduce themselves, or inactivated (killed) viruses. However, because it takes about two weeks for people to build up immunity after they get the vaccine, some people may catch the flu during that time period.

Symptoms of a cold may also be mistakenly attributed to getting the vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, side effects from the flu shot typically include mild soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site. A low-grade fever may occur in 1 to 2 percent of people.

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.

What can you expect if you get 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.

When and how often should you get vaccinated?

Flu shot with childEveryone 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. Some young children might need two doses of vaccine. A health care provider can advise on how many doses a child should get.

You can get a flu shot from your primary care provider, neighborhood pharmacy or by contacting your local public health department. Virginia Mason is offering walk-in flu shot clinics at several locations through Nov. 30.

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.

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.

 

 

Seven Steps to Stop the Flu

At Virginia Mason, we’re big on flu prevention. In 2005, we were the first medical center to require staff members to get a yearly flu shot as a condition of employment, and now nearly all staff members are immunized each year. (For extra credit, read our health care industry blog post “Mandatory Flu Shots: A Defining Moment” to learn more about Virginia Mason’s decision to make flu shots mandatory for staff.)

My desk yeti proudly wears his “No Flu” sticker. And yes, I clean my phone regularly.

Next week, we kick off our flu prevention campaign, and here are the steps you can take to join us in stopping the flu:

  1. Get vaccinated. Virginia Mason is offering influenza immunizations at many convenient locations throughout the Puget Sound beginning Monday, Sept. 17.
  2. Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available. Wash your hands after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose.
  3. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  4. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in a covered trash can after you use it and then clean your hands.
  5. Avoid close contact with people who are, or may be, sick.
  6.  Keep frequently touched common surfaces clean, such as telephones, computer keyboards and doorknobs.
  7.  Be healthy to stay healthy by getting enough rest, eating well and exercising. Control your stress levels. Prolonged stress can affect your immune system. To help manage your stress, find a balance between work, exercise and personal time.

If you do get sick despite your best prevention efforts, stay home. Flu symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, tiredness, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. With that list of icky ills, why would you want to leave home, so give yourself a break and rest.