Today's Medicine

As Flu Season Ramps Up, Now Is the Time to Get Vaccinated

It’s that time again. The weather has cooled. The leaves have fallen. And flu season is ramping up.

Without protection, you and your family can become more susceptible to hard-hitting illnesses like influenza. That’s why it’s important to think about vaccinations now.

Flu basics

What is influenza, and are you at risk?

  • The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by different viruses.
  • Flu activity often begins to increase in October, peaking between December and February. It can last as late as May.
  • Flu symptoms include muscle aches, fever, chills, sore throat, cough and fatigue. The flu also can lead to serious complications, hospitalization and sometimes death.
  • Anyone can get the flu, although people over 65, those with chronic medical conditions, pregnant women and children under 5 are at higher risk of developing serious complications.

Essential vaccine information

Flu viruses mutate each season, so everyone age 6 months and older should get a vaccine each year. That includes people with cancer or with a history of cancer, and women who are pregnant. Studies have shown that getting a flu vaccine during pregnancy can protect the baby for several months after birth.

A shot is the most common method for vaccination, but this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is also recommending the nasal spray vaccine as an option for some people.

After vaccination, it takes about two weeks for you to be protected. While it’s recommended everyone get a vaccine by the end of October, it’s never too late in the flu season to be vaccinated.

Want to know more? The CDC has a detailed website offering answers to frequently asked questions, vaccine recommendations, data on flu activity and more. 

Prevention is key to staying healthy

Colds and the flu can make for misery at home, school and the workplace. To help keep yourself safe, remember to:

  • Get a flu shot: Without question, getting vaccinated is the best way to protect yourself.
  • Wash your hands: There is a right way – rinse your hands and lather with soap, scrubbing for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use hand sanitizer: If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Disinfect high-touch areas: Countertops, door handles and gym equipment are all breeding grounds for germs and bacteria. You should also frequently wipe down phones, remotes and light switches.
  • Stop biting your nails: Your fingers touch everything, and your nails collect it – including germs and bacteria. Touching your face or biting your nails puts them on a direct route to your mouth and nose.
  • Get good sleep: Getting quality sleep on a regular basis strengthens your immune system.
  • Boost your immune system: You can boost your body’s ability to fight off sickness by adding the right vitamins and nutrients to your diet. Check out these ideas.
  • Get some fresh air – even when it's cold out: One of the reasons sickness spreads more easily in winter is because we’re all inside sharing the same air. Open a window, step outside or consider an air purifier.

More tips for staying healthy during cold and flu season.

About the Author

Dr. Rudolf Kotula is a board-certified infectious disease physician. He specializes in areas such as antibiotic resistance, travel medicine and infection prevention.

You can visit Dr. Kotula at Methodist Physicians Clinic.

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