By David P. Franklin, MD & Amy Russell, MD
Q: Why are flu shots so important and do I really need one?
Dr. Russell: Yes. If you’re six months of age or older, it’s important to receive an annual flu vaccine to help protect you and the people around you – such as family members and friends – against the flu virus. It’s important to remember that more serious complications from the flu can result in hospitalization and even death.
Q: When should you receive a flu vaccine?
Dr. Russell: It’s best to try to get your flu vaccination as early in the flu season as possible to help build your immunity before people are exposed to the virus. You can still benefit from getting a flu vaccine later in the season to help protect against exposure to the virus.
Dr. Franklin: There’s an established “herd immunity” as it relates to protecting a population from the flu virus or a form of indirect protection from disease that occurs when a large percentage of a population has become immune to an infection that provides a measure of protection for individuals who are not immune, as it relates to the flu vaccine. With the flu vaccine, if 85 percent of an entire population receive the vaccine, it generally protects everyone within that population.
Q: Who is most susceptible to the flu?
Dr. Franklin: Young children, adults over the age of 65, individuals with a preexisting medical condition such as asthma, heart or lung disease, as well as individuals with a weakened immune system are at the greatest risk of contracting the flu virus.
Q: What precautions should be taken during winter months to avoid colds and flu?
Dr. Franklin and Dr. Russell: Handwashing is by far the No. 1 precaution individuals can take to protect against the flu virus and other germs. It’s also important to practice good health habits like avoiding close contact with people who are sick, covering your cough, getting plenty of sleep, maintaining physically activity levels, managing your stress, drinking plenty of fluids and eating nutritious food.
Q: What flu symptoms should alert someone they should seek immediate medical attention?
Dr. Franklin: Fever, headache, cough, extreme dehydration, lightheadedness and shortness of breath are all symptoms that could be early signs of the flu. Treatment with antivirals is the most helpful within the first 48 hours of symptoms presenting, so contact your primary care provider if you start to experience any of these symptoms or notice them in a family member.
David P. Franklin, MD, is President, Mission Medical Associates, Mission Health. Amy Russell, MD, is Chief of Community Medicine, Mission Health