‘Tis the Season for Flu Vaccinations
The mercury may drop, but another trend is soon on the rise. In November, healthcare providers around the country will notice a rise in influenza cases, peaking in winter before steadying and dropping toward the beginning of spring. According to the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), 10-20% of the population is infected by flu viruses each year, with children infected more often than adults.
Though the flu can spread rapidly and range in severity, annual flu vaccines can greatly reduce the chances of causing debilitating illness. Learn what the flu vaccine is, who needs it, and how you can prevent the spread this flu season.
What is the flu vaccine?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the flu vaccine or flu shot refers to any vaccination against the four most prevalent strains of the flu each year. Multiple flu vaccines are manufactured each year and can come in many different forms, including standard-dose flu shots, cell-based flu shots, recombinant flu shots, high-dose flu shots, adjuvanted flu shots, and live attenuated nasal spray vaccines.
Who should get the flu vaccine?
Anyone ages 6 months and older can receive the flu shot. However, according to the IDPH, vaccination is especially important for certain people, including any of the following:
- People ages 65 and older
- Residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities
- People who have chronic heart and lung conditions such as asthma
- People with diabetes, renal disease, severe anemia, or suppressed immune systems
- Children on aspirin therapy
- Healthcare providers or anyone living with members of the above groups
Why should I get a flu shot?
Just because you were vaccinated a year ago doesn’t mean you’re protected now. Because dominant strains of the flu vary from year to year, patients should vaccinate every flu season.
“Yearly vaccinations are composed of the predicted strains shown to be prevalent using the vaccine virus selection method through the CDC research, which utilizes 144 influenza centers in 114 countries,” said Culbertson Director of Clinical Operations Kristi Hinegardner. “This structure provides experts with year-round surveillance for best identification of the virus strains to provide appropriate vaccines.”
According to the CDC, in 2019-2020 — the last flu season before the COVID-19 pandemic — flu vaccination prevented an estimated 7.5 million illnesses, 3.7 million medical visits, 105,000 hospitalizations, and 6,300 deaths associated with the flu. Additionally, studies show flu vaccination can reduce the chance of a medical visit by 40-60%. The flu vaccine has also been shown to reduce the severity of illness in people who are infected, lowering the risk of ICU admission and even death in vaccinated patients.
Furthermore, the CDC reports the flu vaccine has also been associated with lower rates of cardiac events in patients with heart disease, and has been associated with lower hospitalization rates in patients with diabetes and chronic lung disease. Flu vaccination has also shown to reduce the risk of hospitalization in pregnant patients by 40% and can even protect newborn babies during the first few months of their lives. Finally, the flu vaccine can be lifesaving in children as studies have shown a significant drop in the hospitalization rate of vaccinated children ages 6 months to 17 years old.
How can I prevent the spread of the flu?
“There are several things that can help prevent the spread of the flu,” Hinegardner said. “Vaccinations can help decrease the severity of the flu and help prevent spreading to others. Stay home and away from others if you are sick, especially high-risk populations such as those with compromised immune systems, people over the age of 65, or people of any age with a history of respiratory disease. Cover your coughs. Most importantly, wash your hands.”
If you find yourself unsure if you should leave the house, take a tip from our own Brittany King, RN: “If you feel sick, stay home.”
What can I do to manage the flu at home?
“Always contact your provider for guidance. Symptomatic treatment is generally recommended, including over the counter fever reducers for fever and pain, fluids, and rest,” Hinegardner said. “There are antiviral medications that providers can prescribe for early symptoms. These have been shown to work best when started within two days of symptoms. Stay away from others, cover coughs, and wash hands. Disinfect surfaces frequently. Make sure you are fever free for 24 hours before returning to work or school.”
When should I seek medical attention for the flu?
Though flu symptoms may be manageable in some patients, others may experience more severe symptoms that require attention from a healthcare provider. Seek medical attention if you suffer from any of the following flu-related symptoms:
- Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
- Persistent pain or pressure in chest or abdomen
- Dizziness or confusion
- Muscle pain
- Weakness or unsteadiness
- Fever or cough that initially improves, but returns or worsens
- Worsening chronic medical conditions
If your child has the flu, seek medical attention if the show the following symptoms:
- Fast breathing or trouble breathing
- Bluish lips or face
- Retracting, or ribs pulling in with each breath
- Chest pain
- Muscle pain
- Fever above 104 degrees, or any fever in children younger than 12 weeks old
• Fever or cough that initially improves, but returns or worsens
• Worsening chronic medical conditions