When the leaves have turned gold and the mornings take on a chilly air, there is no mistaking what is just around the corner. That’s right, flu season. Kleenex, cough drops and sick days go hand-in-hand with autumn. No stunning vista view of maples doused in the ruby hues of fall would be complete without at least one sneeze, a cough or an ambiance-disturbing honk of a stuffed up nose. Like pumpkin flavor and lattes, for better or worse, cold symptoms seem to be forever synonymous with this time of year.
Not related at all to the stomach variety of flu, characterized by vomiting, diarrhea or nausea, this kind of flu, or influenza, is a virus that results in respiratory symptoms far worse than the common cold. Flu symptoms come on suddenly, and can include high fever, muscle aches, chills and sweats, headache, fatigue and a persistent cough. It is not uncommon for infected people to remark they feel as though they’ve been ‘hit by a truck’ or that ‘even their hair hurts.’ Symptoms of influenza can last for days, often necessitating multiple sick days from work or school. And while a few days off work, lounging on the couch watching reruns of your favorite show might sound kind of nice, this is no joking matter. Influenza, is very serious, especially for the very young and the very old, pregnant women and those with chronic health conditions. In these populations, influenza can lead to hospitalization or even death.
Influenza is also highly contagious. The virus travels through the air in droplets when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. You can inhale the droplets directly, or you can pick up the germs from an object—such as a shopping cart or computer keyboard—and then transfer them to your eyes, nose or mouth. In other words, if you get sick, chances are you will get someone else sick and vice versa.
It all seems rather dire when spoken of in these terms but fortunately, there’s something you can do: get a flu shot. An annual flu vaccine is the first and best way to protect yourself, your family and your friends from the flu. Increasing the number of people who get vaccinated each year also helps to protect more people, including those who are most vulnerable. Those who can get the vaccine should, as it acts as a form of immunity for those who can’t, such as children under 6 months of age, persons with severe allergies to eggs, or those with certain immune disorders.
The process is quick, relatively painless and results in few side effects. Redness and irritation at the site of injection are the most common side-effects from the flu shot. While annoying, these side effects are a small price to pay in the effort to keep you, your family and your neighbor healthy enough to enjoy all the pumpkin lattes that fall has to offer. This year, get the flu shot, not the flu.