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Serving the Susquehanna Region

A Few Minutes for the Flu Vaccine May Save You a Week

by Andrea Bickford, D.O.

Andrea Bickford, D.O., UPMC Susquehanna Family MedicineHave you scheduled your flu illness yet? Be sure to keep five-to-seven days open at any time during flu season, October through March, for a fever, body aches, headache, runny nose, and a cough.

If you’d rather not commit that much time to the flu, and you don’t like the idea of missing days of work or school or cancelling vacation and planned activities, consider the flu vaccination instead. Receiving the flu vaccination takes just minutes, and greatly reduces your chances of getting the flu. It also reduces the chance that you will spread the virus to others who are more vulnerable. While the flu is inconvenient for many, it can cause complications, like pneumonia, or lead to hospitalization and even death for some people, especially those with compromised immune systems.

The flu vaccination, which is 63-percent effective in preventing the flu, is recommended for everyone older than sixth months, but it is especially important for:

  • Individuals age 65 or older
  • Anyone with an underlying lung disorder, such as asthma or COPD
  • Those prone to infections or who have compromised immune systems, including people who have diabetes, HIV/AIDS, cancer, or are taking certain medications
  • Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant, as changes to the immune system, heart, and lungs during pregnancy can make them more prone to severe illness

Immunization for the current strains of the flu is necessary every year. The best time is early in October, but it’s never too late to receive the vaccine during the season. This year, only the injection form of the vaccine is recommended. Getting the vaccine shot in your dominant arm will help reduce the tight or bruised feeling some people experience at the injection site just after their immunization.

Because the vaccination does not include a live virus, it will not give you the flu. It does trigger an immune response that some people say makes them feel “slightly off” for a short period. It takes about 10 days to be fully protected from the virus. Those who report getting the flu right after they were vaccinated were likely exposed to the virus just before or immediately after their injection.

Sometimes the flu is mistaken for a cold, because of the nasal congestion and coughing. The flu usually has additional symptoms, including fever, muscle pain, and headache, which typically reach their peak—causing you to feel quite miserable—during days three to five of illness. By days five to seven, you should begin feeling better, but be aware that your cough may continue for four-to-six weeks.

If you suspect that you have the flu, be considerate of others and stay at home until your fever has been gone for at least 24 hours. Be sure to drink lots of liquids, which will help thin the mucous that is congesting your nose and lungs. You can take ibuprofen for the muscle aches, provided that you do not have kidney disease. Acetaminophen can be a good alternative, unless your liver is compromised.

If you are severely sick by day two, or you are a person who is prone to infections, contact your doctor. In some cases, an anti-viral treatment called Tamiflu is prescribed to reduce the symptoms and duration of the flu, and to help prevent complications. This treatment must be given within 72 hours of the first symptoms to be effective. Any time you are unsure, or if you are running a high fever — 100.4° F for children and 101° F for adults — it’s better to err or on the side of caution and contact your doctor regarding the appropriate care.

If you haven’t gotten your flu vaccine yet, call you family doctor to make plans to do it now. In the meantime, you can reduce the likelihood of catching and spreading the flu virus with good handwashing habits.

Dr. Bickford practices family medicine at UPMC Susquehanna.