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Fight the Flu

September 22, 2020
As fall and winter approach, it’s time to talk about influenza, more commonly known as "the flu." This year, the conversation looks different than it has in years past. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has changed the way people think about viruses, and staying well has become more important than ever. While the flu and COVID-19 have many similar symptoms such as fever, cough, muscle aches, and shortness of breath, they are two separate illnesses caused by different viruses. If you are experiencing these symptoms, call your primary care provider, as testing may be necessary to determine if you are sick with the flu, COVID-19, or another illness.

One of the most effective ways to prevent influenza is to get an injectable flu vaccine. Though the flu tends to target young children and older adults, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone six months and older get an annual flu vaccination, with a few rare exceptions. Here are answers to some common questions about the flu:

Q: Why is a flu vaccine important?

A: Influenza is a serious disease that even healthy people can get very sick from and spread to others, often unknowingly. An untreated flu can lead to hospitalization or even death. When more people get vaccinated against the flu, it has a lower chance of spreading throughout our community. This is especially important now, as communities are already at a high risk for COVID-19.

Q: When is "flu season"?

A: Flu season in the United States can begin as early as October and last as late as May. This is when flu viruses are circulating at higher levels than other months.

Q: How does the flu spread?

A: Mainly, the flu is spread when people infected with the virus cough, sneeze, or talk. This produces respiratory droplets that can land in others' mouths or noses. Less often, the flu virus can be transmitted by a surface or object that someone with flu has touched.

Q: What are the best ways to avoid the flu?

A: Get a flu shot! This is the most effective way of preventing infection from influenza. You should also wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer and avoid sharing linens, eating utensils, or dishes with those who are sick. Disinfect frequently touched surfaces often, especially if someone around you has been ill. Avoid touching your own mouth or nose if you haven't washed your hands first. Patients of GBMC Health Partners over the age of 6 can get their flu shots at our convenient drive-through flu vaccination area on the GBMC campus.

Q: When is the flu considered contagious?

A: It's possible for healthy adults to be contagious and infect other people beginning one day before symptoms develop and for five to seven days after becoming sick. Children may be able to infect others for longer than seven days. It is possible to "feel fine" but still spread the flu virus to others. If you or your child is sick, stay home until your doctor tells you it is safe to return to work or school.

Q: How quickly will a flu vaccine be effective?

A: Vaccines don't work right away. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body to protect against influenza. This is why it is best to get vaccinated early in the fall, before flu season is in full swing.

Talk to your primary care physician about getting seasonal flu vaccinations for you and everyone in your family who is older than six months of age. If you do not have a primary care physician, visit to find one who is right for you.
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