Last year’s flu season was the worst one in nearly a decade, and it was especially active in Virginia, according to the Virginia Department of Health. Its severity sent hundreds of people to emergency rooms or doctors’ offices and resulted in a higher-than-usual rate of hospital admissions. While experts have no way of knowing how severe this year’s flu season will be, many emphasize that the best way to protect yourself from flu is to get the annual flu vaccine.
More Than Just a Bad Cold
Also known as influenza, the flu is a viral infection that attacks the respiratory system (the nose, throat and lungs). The disease is spread when someone who has the flu virus sneezes, coughs or even talks, emitting tiny droplets of flu-containing saliva or mucus into the air. If another person inhales these droplets, he or she can become infected. Flu is also spread by touching surfaces or objects contaminated with infected droplets.
Flu shares many of the same symptoms as the common cold, but flu is usually more severe than a cold. Most people who get the flu recover in one to two weeks, but flu and its complications can become very severe, requiring hospital admission. The disease can even become deadly—especially for certain groups of people, including children under age 5; people over age 65; and anyone with a compromised immune system or certain chronic health problems like asthma, diabetes and heart disease.
Why Get the Flu Vaccine?
The main reason to get vaccinated is to avoid the flu yourself. But even if your body is strong enough to fight off the flu in a week or two, you are still contagious while you have the virus and can pass the flu virus to others. When more people get vaccinated, it helps prevent the spread of flu to family, friends and co-workers, as well as throughout the community.
How Can I Get Vaccinated?
Flu shots are offered widely throughout the community at physicians’ offices, health clinics, pharmacies and local health departments, and by many employers and schools. You do not need a doctor’s order to get vaccinated.
In general, everyone age 6 months and older should get the flu vaccination, unless your doctor says otherwise. People who are allergic to eggs and those who have had a reaction to a previous vaccination should talk to their doctor about being vaccinated.
Signs and Symptoms of Flu
• Runny or stuffy nose
• Sore muscles or body aches
• Sore throat