What is influenza?
Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by several different types of viruses that infect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Influenza viruses spread mainly from person to person by the droplets produced when infected individuals cough, sneeze or talk.
The flu is different from a cold, as it usually comes on suddenly. People who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms – fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. Some people may experience vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children. It’s also important to note that not everyone with the flu will have a fever.
The flu has common symptoms with other illnesses, though typically with a shorter incubation period (anywhere from one to four days) before a person experiences symptoms after exposure to the virus. Also, those suffering from the flu don’t usually experience loss of taste or smell, severe shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
Why get a flu shot every year?
An annual flu vaccine is necessary as a person’s immune protection from vaccination declines over time. Because flu viruses are constantly changing, the vaccine composition is reviewed each year, and is designed to protect against the viruses that researchers indicate will be most common during the upcoming season.
Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection with that season’s circulating influenza viruses. The best way to prevent becoming infected is to receive the current season’s influenza vaccine as soon as it’s available each year.
Most people who get the flu will recover on their own within about two weeks, but some will experience severe complications requiring hospitalization. While some individuals who receive the vaccine may still become ill, vaccination has been shown to reduce the severity of illness in those who were vaccinated but still got sick.
Who should get vaccinated?
Unless you have previously had a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine, anyone six months of age and older should receive a flu vaccine that is appropriate for their age and health status every season. Vaccination is particularly important for people who are at higher risk of developing serious flu complications.
Getting a flu shot helps everyone – including those who can’t get the flu vaccine – stay as healthy as possible and will help protect you from getting both COVID-19 and the flu at the same time.