What is the flu?
“Flu” is short for influenza, a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus that infects the nose, throat and lungs. The symptoms can be very painful and uncomfortable, and in severe cases can even be fatal.
In most cases, the flu will go away on its own after rest and getting plenty of fluids. However, in some cases complications can get more severe over time, especially for the elderly, young children and others with compromised immune systems.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
The first signs or symptoms of influenza (the flu) may be mild or just seem like a common cold with a runny nose, sneezing and sore throat. But colds usually develop slowly, whereas the flu tends to come on suddenly. And although a cold can be a nuisance, the signs and symptoms of influenza are usually much worse than those of the cold.
Symptoms of the flu may include some or all of the below:
- Fever or chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Vomiting and diarrhea (though this is more common in children than adults)
How is the flu (influenza) spread?
People with flu can infect others up to 6 feet away. Medical experts think that flu viruses spread mainly when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk—the droplets of the influenza virus that are emitted can land in the mouths or noses of nearby individuals who then inhale the virus themselves. Also, the flu can be spread by someone touching a surface or object that has the flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or eyes.
When flu spreads
Influenza or the flu is most contagious in the first 3– 4 days after they begin to show signs of the illness. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms of the flu develop and up to 5–7 days after becoming sick.
Symptoms of influenza can begin about two days after the virus enters the body (but this can range from 1–4 days). That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Some people can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, those people may still spread the virus to others.
It has been found that influenza viruses can survive for:
- Up to an hour in the air in enclosed environments
- More than eight hours on hard surfaces such as stainless steel and plastic
- Up to five minutes on hands after transfer from other surfaces
How long does influenza last
Most of the normal flu symptoms steadily improve over 2–5 days, however it’s not uncommon to feel tired, fatigued or run down for a week or more. If you have a high risk of complications or begin to experience more severe symptoms, it’s best to contact your doctor.
Fortunately for people who’ve had a flu shot, those flu symptoms can last a shorter amount of time, or not be as severe.
Who needs a flu shot?
The only way to prevent the flu is through vaccination. That’s why the CDC recommends everyone get a flu shot, especially for those with medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and chronic lung disease; pregnant women; people 65 and older; or people who live with or care for others who are at high risk of developing serious complications.
What is the influenza vaccine?
Getting an annual seasonal flu vaccine can be the best way to protect against getting the flu. Influenza vaccination has been shown to have a lot of benefits, including reducing the risk of getting the flu, being hospitalized and even flu-related deaths in smaller children.
The influenza virus vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies give the body protection against infection with the weakened influenza viruses contained in the vaccine.
The seasonal flu vaccine the CDC recommends protects against the most common influenza viruses that appear during normal flu seasons. The traditional influenza vaccines are designed to protect against three flu viruses, as well as an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus and an influenza B virus.
There’s also a flu vaccine that immunizes against four flu viruses—all three mentioned above as well as an additional B virus.
Influenza vaccine side effects
As with any medical product or procedure, vaccines may cause side effects in some cases. Any flu shot side effects are generally mild and go away on their own in a short time.
Common side effects from the influenza vaccine include:
- Soreness, redness and/or swelling from the shot
- Muscle aches
When should I get a flu shot?
Every flu season is different, and so are the vaccines developed each year. The CDC recommends flu shots as soon as the new vaccine is available, since it takes about two weeks from the date of vaccination for antibodies to develop against the flu. Contact your local Pharmaca to find out when the vaccine will be available for the season.
Can I get a walk-in flu shot at Pharmaca?
Yes, flu shots, including quadrivalent and high-dose options, are available on a walk-in basis during flu season. Just request yours from a pharmacist. Age requirements for the flu shot vary by state. Please contact your local Pharmaca for details.
What are the different types of flu shots available at Pharmaca?
Quadrivalent flu shots are designed to protect against four different flu viruses; two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses. This type of flu shot is used most widely. Fluzone High-Dose is a flu shot designed specifically for people 65 years and older, and is also available at Pharmaca.
Please note that flu shots can only be administered to children 9 years and older.