Flu 101

Getting vaccinated is the best protection against flu illness.

Before we get into the peak of flu season, it’s important to prepare for this population-wide concern by learning from seasons from the past few years. With the severe spread of infection and detrimental health impact caused in the past several years, many people are no longer underestimating this illness.

Studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that the flu vaccination can reduce the risk of contracting the flu by between 40% and 60%. “This year, flu vaccines have been updated to better match circulating viruses,” says Adrian Cotton, MD, chief of medical operations at Loma Linda University Health.

“There are multiple flu viruses that are constantly changing, which is why the vaccine is reviewed and updated annually to match changes in the flu viruses,” he says.

Cotton provides clear answers on what can be learned from last season and what to expect this season:

When does the season start?

While influenza viruses circulate year-round, the peak of the season often falls between December and February, and doctors typically start seeing cases in this region in October.

Cotton recommends getting your flu shot at the beginning of the season in late September or early October.

“Getting your flu shot early in the season can help prevent you from contracting the flu and prevent the spread of the virus to other people in your school, workplace or family,” Cotton says.

Knowing that the season starts early can be an effective tool in protecting yourself at the beginning and staying healthy throughout, he says.

Are vaccinations safe?

Cotton says even if you feel there are risks of being vaccinated, the risks to you and those around you are far greater. While you may be able to fight off the infection, you could present a significant risk by carrying and spreading the virus, even when you’re not symptomatic. Members of your family or community with compromised immune systems may not be able to fight off the infection as easily — or at all.

Because the flu can cause serious illness, hospitalization and death — particularly among older adults, very young children, pregnant women, and people with certain chronic medical conditions — doctors recommend annual vaccination for everyone older than six months.

What factors determine how effective this year’s vaccine will be?

“Effectiveness varies, depending on the recipient’s age and health, the types of influenza viruses that may be circulating, and the how similar the viruses in circulation are to those included in the vaccine,” Cotton says. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during the United States flu seasons from 2010 to 2016, the flu vaccination prevented an estimated:

  • 1.6 – 6.7 million illnesses
  • 790,000 – 3.1 million outpatient medical visits
  • 39,000 – 87,000 hospitalizations
  • 3,000 – 10,000 respiratory and circulatory deaths

Cotton says people need to know that getting vaccinated is the best protection against flu illness. “To stop the spread of flu this season, you can take additional precautions in addition to the vaccination,” he says.

What can be done in addition to vaccination to stop the spread of respiratory illnesses like the flu this year?

Staying home while sick, limiting contact with others and covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze are all ways to slow and prevent the spread of the flu, Cotton says. “Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands,” he says. “Wash them frequently with soap and warm water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.”

Contact your healthcare provider, physician’s office, clinic or pharmacy about obtaining the flu vaccine. To learn more about flu prevention and everyday steps to protect your health, contact Loma Linda University Primary Care at 909-558-6600. You can also schedule an appointment online at MyChart for same-day appointments.