By Dr. Nailah Thompson, Kaiser Permanente Oakland Medical Center
As the seasons change, the weather gets cooler, children return to school, and colds and the flu become more common. Schools, family gatherings, churches and other places of worship are all places that we congregate in the Fall and Winter. While we spread good cheer when we come together, we can also spread diseases like the flu.
What’s the flu?
Influenza virus — or “the flu”— is more serious than the common cold. Symptoms often include fever, chills, severe muscle or body aches, headaches, coughing, sore throat and feeling more tired than normal. Serious complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration. Unlike the common cold, the flu kills hundreds of Californians every year.
But there is a remedy. The flu vaccine helps to prevent you from getting the flu and from spreading it to others. Protect yourself and your loved ones by getting your flu vaccine. The flu vaccine does not use live viruses, so it can’t give you the flu – it can only help prevent it.
Who should be vaccinated?
National guidelines and Kaiser Permanente strongly recommend that everyone 6 months of age and older receive a flu shot.
It’s especially important for pregnant women, children, older adults, and people with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, kidney, heart, or lung disease to get the flu vaccine to keep their diseases from worsening should they get the virus.
Do children need to be vaccinated against influenza?
Children can easily spread the flu to other children, adults, and the elderly. Getting vaccinated also helps protect those most vulnerable: infants, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with chronic medical conditions.
Do you need to be vaccinated every year?
The flu virus changes often and the protection from the vaccine only lasts for about a year. If you’re not immunized against this year’s expected virus strains, you and those around you are at risk for getting the flu. That’s why you should get a flu vaccine every year, preferably in the fall. It takes 2-3 weeks for your body’s immune system to develop protection against the virus after vaccination. This is why fall is a good time for the shot prior to the flu season’s getting up to full speed.
What else can you do to prevent the flu?
Good hygiene, such as washing your hands and covering your cough will help protect you against these infections. Use soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer to clean your hands, especially after a cough or sneeze. Viruses can live on phones, door knobs, money—on most surfaces—so when we use our hands and then rub our eyes or nose, we expose ourselves to infection. Handwashing is an excellent way to stay healthy.
If you or your child are sick, it’s best to stay home from work or school. If you have a fever, wait at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine before returning to work, church, school, or other places where people gather.
For more about the flu and how to protect yourself, click here.
Dr. Nailah Thompson is an osteopathic physician and the director of the Internal Medicine Health Equity and Disparities Residency Program at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland.