By Megan Wehring
Flu season came earlier than expected and experts say it’s not the time to wait on getting the vaccine.
“Flu is already here,” said Dr. Karen Smith, a family practice physician for Baylor Scott & White. “If you don’t already have your flu shot, you are behind. We are seeing huge numbers of school children bringing this home and what’s prevalent in our area right now is Influenza A.”
Influenza, commonly known as the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. The best way to prevent getting the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The vaccine is usually not very effective at the individual level, according to Smith.
“They work on neighborhoods and communities,” Smith said. “The people who die of the flu are people over 65 years old, people under 5 years old and people with chronic illnesses and disabilities. The real reason to get a flu shot is to protect your friends and neighbors. It’s the only thing that we can do.”
People who have the flu often feel some or all of the following symptoms, the CDC stated:
• Fever or feeling feverish/chills (not everyone with the flu will have a fever)
• Sore throat
• Runny or stuffy nose
• Muscle or body aches
• Fatigue (tiredness)
• Vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
A 2018 CDC study published in Clinical Infectious Diseases looked at the percentage of the U.S. population who got sick with the flu using two different methods and compared the findings. Both methods had similar findings, which suggested that on average, about 8% of the U.S. population gets sick from flu each season, with a range of between 3% and 11%, depending on the season.
Oftentimes, it is challenging to distinguish the difference between illnesses: flu, common cold, allergies and COVID-19.
“That’s why you need to see your physician to get tested,” Smith said. “I will say that if somebody has a high fever, it’s more likely to be the flu or COVID. Little children are going to run a high fever with everything [because]that’s what they are supposed to do. Their immune systems are so immature and they overreact. But in an adult, high fever and body aches are signs that it’s something more than a cold.”
Parents and those with an egg allergy will now be able to take advantage of a new non-egg-based vaccine for children at least 6 months old. As of June 2022, most physicians and pharmacies offer the cell-based flu vaccine in addition to the traditional egg-based vaccine. More information can be found at https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/cell-based.htm.