This autumn, doctors and healthcare systems will be dealing with two circulating viruses: the novel coronavirus and influenza.
It’s fair to say that flu season is going to look a lot different as the country struggles to control a coronavirus pandemic that has already killed more than 191,000 people.
Many Americans are reluctant to visit a doctor’s office or even to walk into a pharmacy for fear of being exposed to germs – but by getting the flu shot, you can effectively help doctors take one problem off the table.
What is Influenza?
Although sometimes thought of as “just a bad cold,” the flu kills tens of thousands of people in the U.S. every year. Often, the very young, the elderly, and those with underlying conditions are the most vulnerable.
Symptoms include fever, chills, muscle aches, cough, congestion, runny nose, headaches, and fatigue. In more serious cases, severe dehydration, chest pressure, and shortness of breath may occur.
When coupled with the effects of Covid-19, experts say the flu could be more dangerous than ever.
A Flu Vaccine is the Best Protection Against Flu
The power of the flu vaccine is twofold.
According to the Henry Ford Health System, if enough young, healthy people get vaccinated, they can help protect high-risk groups through something called “herd immunity.” In layman’s terms, the more people that get the flu shot, the less likely the virus is to be transmitted to others.
For those that are high-risk themselves, the flu shot is even more important. The CDC says this is especially true for adults aged 65 and older, who account for most hospitalizations and deaths from the flu each year. Because of immune system changes as we age, older adults are far more likely to experience severe flu complications compared with a younger population – and a flu shot provides the best protection.
When Should I Get My Flu Shot?
Advertising has already begun and most pharmacies already have their flu vaccines in stock, however it’s not necessary to rush out and get your shot just yet. Generally, influenza viruses start circulating in mid- to late October, but don’t reach their peak until later in the winter.
Because it takes about two weeks to build up antibodies after receiving a vaccine, the CDC recommends that older adults get the shot by the end of October.
How Effective is the Flu Shot?
Flu vaccines are developed anew each year because influenza viruses mutate. Because of this, the flu shot ranges in effectiveness each year, depending on how well scientists matched the circulating strain. Last year’s shot, for example, was estimated to be about 45% effective in preventing the flu overall.
It isn’t yet know how effective this year’s flu vaccine will be, however with people practicing social distancing and wearing masks, flu cases are expected to be fewer overall.
It is important to note, as well, that even if you still get the flu, your illness is likely to be less lengthy and severe if you have received the vaccine beforehand.
Flu shots help protect you against getting the flu and make you less likely to spread it to others. By staying healthy, you’ll help keep hospitals and medical facilities from becoming overwhelmed during the Covid-19 pandemic.