Ah, the rituals of fall: autumn festivals, pumpkin-flavored beverages … and flu shots.
Area doctors recommend everyone over the age of 6 months gets the vaccine annually before the start of flu season, which typically lasts from October through May.
If you haven’t gotten a flu shot yet, don’t wait, advised Dr. Katherine Tadolini, a physician at Washington Health System Primary Care-Lakeside in McMurray.
“I’m originally from the West, and there’s already been a huge spike in hospitalizations out there for influenza,” said Tadolini, a native of Colorado. “Experts are predicting this season could be more severe than last year, and last year we saw quite a few positive flu tests, with some requiring hospitalization.”
Australia saw a significant influenza outbreak during their winter – our summer – which is an indicator the United States could be in for a rough flu season.
Australia’s Department of Heath has reported more than two and a half times more flu cases this year compared with the same period last year.
In the United States, most flu cases are reported from December through February, according to Dr. Kathleen Latouf, medical director of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Canonsburg Hospital.
“The flu shot is the best protection you can give you and your family,” said Latouf. “Our recommendation is for anyone who doesn’t have a contraindication for the flu shot to get one if they are 6 months or older.”
Everyone is susceptible to getting the flu, even people in good health. But some people, including those over 65 and people with certain health conditions or illnesses, are considered to have higher risk of serious complications from the flu.
Even if the flu shot doesn’t prevent a person from catching the flu altogether, getting a yearly flu vaccine can help limit complications and prevent unnecessary deaths.
Keep in mind, Latouf said, that when more people in a community get immunized to prevent the flu, the less likely they will contract the flu or spread the virus to other people.
And no, you won’t get the flu from getting a flu vaccine, said Tadolini.
“That’s a myth. The immune system is going to respond to the flu shot, so you might wind up with a sore arm or mild symptoms, but you won’t get the flu,” she said.
This year, the Flu Mist nasal spray vaccine will not be available, Latouf said, because it has not appeared to be effective in protecting children during recent flu seasons.
Flu vaccines are offered in many locations, including doctors’ offices, urgent care clinics, health departments, pharmacies and college health centers. Many employers also offer flu shots.
Tadolini said it takes about four weeks for the flu shot to build immunity to protect a person.
“We have 400 flu shots available,” said Tadolini. “I tell people just to call and make an appointment and get their flu shot. At this point, the sooner you get a flu shot, the better.”
Latouf said most people who contract the flu can be treated at home for symptoms, which can include fever, cough, muscle aches and fatigue. But, she noted, those who suffer from symptoms such as high fever, shortness of breath or dizziness should seek medical help.