While keeping a close eye on COVID-19, don't forget about the influenza virus - most commonly called the flu.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there is no change in their recommendation on timing of the vaccination. September and October are good times to get vaccinated. However, as long as flu viruses are circulating, vaccination should continue, even in January or later.

"Data shows that getting your flu vaccination is the number one thing you can do to protect yourself against the flu,” said Dr. Danna Stuart of Newman Healthcare Associates in Shattuck.

Many providers and pharmacies start offering the vaccine as soon as it is ready from manufacturers, usually in September. Health care providers keep vaccine supplies stocked through the peak of the influenza season, which is generally in January or February.

It is important to note that you do need to receive an updated vaccine every year.

“That’s because the flu virus changes from year to year, and this year’s strain might be a little different from last year’s,” said Shandy Baggs, APRN-CNP. “So, to ensure you have the best protection possible, you want to get the vaccine every year.”

One popular myth surrounding the influenza vaccine is that it can actually make you sick. This is, in fact, not true. The flu shot contains no live influenza viruses, so it’s impossible for you to contract the virus from the vaccine.

“If you do feel ill after receiving your influenza vaccine, it’s actually a case of coincidence,” said Jennifer Hill, LPN, manager of the Immunizations program at Newman Memorial Hospital. “What happens in these cases is a person is exposed to a virus before receiving the vaccine. Because the incubation period is from one to four days, you can actually contract the virus and not experience any symptoms for a few days.”

Another way you could catch the flu despite receiving the vaccine is because many strains circulate and the strain you contract might not be included in this year’s vaccine. Even though you could still catch a strain not covered in the vaccine, it doesn’t mean you should skip getting your flu shot. It can still protect you from several other flu virus strains.

In addition to receiving and annual flu shot, there are some simple ways for you to prevent catching any common winter virus, including the influenza.

“As the weather gets cold more people are confined inside their homes and other buildings.  This makes it easier to spread respiratory illness,” said Dr. Stuart.  “That’s why it’s especially important to cover coughs and sneezes, get immunized, wash your hands and drink lots of fluids this time of year.  And if you do become ill, make sure to stay home.”

While it can be tough to stay home when you’re sick, it is important. Germs can spread quite quickly in office and school settings. Additionally, the extra rest and care you can receive or provide yourself at home will help you recover from symptoms of the flu more quickly.

Other ways to prevent the spread of the flu include:

• Avoid close contact. If you know someone is sick, keep your distance.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.

• Disinfect commonly touched surfaces at home, work and school like doorknobs, remote controls, countertops and desks.

• Get plenty of sleep and remember to be physically active. Even just a 30-minute walk every day can help keep you healthy.

• Eat nutritious foods including lots of fruits and vegetables.

• Manage your stress with healthy habits like meditation.

If you do catch the flu, most of the recommended care is considered supportive. That means the care is to help minimize your symptoms. This can include extra rest, fever-reducing medications like Tylenol or Advil and extra fluids to keep you hydrated.

However, if you start experiencing severe or prolonged symptoms you should seek medical attention.

If you experience shortness of breath, chest pains, a prolonged or severe fever, vomiting or pain while swallowing, you should seek immediate medical care.

Information provided by Newman Memorial Hospital in Shattuck.

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