After November, when you see signs that advertise “Get Your Flu Vaccine Here,” you might think, “Isn’t it too late for that?” As long as flu viruses are spreading, it’s not too late to get the vaccine.
“Flu season typically peaks in winter, but can extend into the spring months,” says Deborah Bundy-Carpenter, RN, nurse manager, Central Shenandoah Health District. “If you haven’t received a flu vaccine this season, protect yourself and your loved ones by getting one now.” The flu vaccine is recommended for anyone age 6 months and older. It takes about two weeks to develop full antibody protection, so the sooner you get vaccinated, the sooner you will be protected.
For millions of people every season, the flu means a fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, fatigue, and miserable days spent in bed. Additionally, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized in the U. S. from flu complications each year. The flu also can be deadly. Flu-associated deaths in the U. S. range from 3,000 to 49,000 annually over the last 30 years.
Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, missed work and school due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations and deaths. The vaccine is available as a shot and as a nasal spray, and millions of people have safely received flu vaccines for decades. Talk to your doctor or other health care professional about which vaccine is best for you and your family.
Some people are at high risk for serious flu-related complications, like pneumonia, that can lead to hospitalization and even death. This includes young children, pregnant women, people 65 and older and people with certain medical conditions, like asthma, diabetes or heart disease. For those at high risk for complications, getting the flu vaccine is especially important. It’s also important to get the vaccine if you care for anyone at high risk, including babies younger than 6 months because they are too young to get the vaccine.
In addition to getting vaccinated, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and throw the tissue away. Wash your hands often with soap and water if available, or use an alcohol-based hand rub. Don’t touch your eyes, nose and mouth. Avoid close contact with sick people. If you are sick, stay home until you are fever-free – without fever-reducing medications – for at least 24 hours. Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them, to lessen symptoms and speed your recovery.
Bundy-Carpenter emphasizes that “flu is a serious, contagious and unpredictable disease that can lead to hospitalization and even death. The best way to protect yourself against the flu is to get vaccinated.”
For more information, call 540-332-7830 or visit www.vdh.virginia.gov.