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“Many people are concerned about the myth that the flu shot can cause the flu,” explains Nurse Practitioner Sam Obgartel. “However, the flu shot is a killed virus and is unable to cause the flu.” Obgartel works for Access Health Louisiana’s (AHL) Kenner Community Health Center inside the Esplanade Mall. AHL is already seeing patients this month test positive for flu. Flu season typically runs from October through February; however, seasonal influenza viruses can be diagnosed year-round in the United States.
Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infects the nose, throat and lungs. Symptoms include: fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, headaches and fatigue. While millions of people get sick from flu each year, the CDC says the number of confirmed cases only accounts for about eight-percent of the total population. While that percentage seems small, it is important to remember that each year perfectly healthy people who catch the flu die from the virus. Therefore, flu vaccines are so important. “A flu vaccine is needed every season for two reasons,” says Obgartel. “First, the body’s immune response from vaccination declines over time, so an annual vaccine is needed for optimal protection. Secondly, because flu viruses are constantly changing, the formulation of the flu vaccine is reviewed each year and updated as needed to keep up with changing flu viruses.” For the best protection, everyone six months and older should get vaccinated annually according to the CDC.
Researchers who work for the CDC change the composition of U.S. flu vaccines annually and update them to match circulating flu viruses. The CDC says that flu vaccines protect you against three or four strains of viruses depending on the vaccine that you receive. Flu vaccines which can protect against three strains of the virus are called trivalent flu vaccines. Flu vaccines which can protect against four strains of the virus are called quadrivalent vaccines. AHL clinic locations stock quadrivalent vaccines which protect against A and B strains of flu, as well as high-dose flu shots for seniors.
When you first start experiencing flu symptoms, it is important to get to the doctor right away. Your doctor will give you a Rapid Influenza Diagnostic Test or “RIDT”. RIDTs work by detecting the parts of the virus (antigens) that stimulate an immune response. The doctor will simply swab back of your throat or inside of your nose and send the sample to the lab. Results are received within 10 to 15 minutes. If you do test positive for flu, antiviral drugs can be given. If started within the first two days of becoming sick with flu, antiviral drugs can lower fever and flu symptoms, shorten the overall time you are sick and reduce your risk of complications including: ear infections, respiratory troubles and even help you avoid hospitalization.
Doctors say that antiviral drugs are a second line of defense in fighting flu, but this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t get a flu shot. Flu shots have three main benefits: they can prevent you from getting the flu, reduce your risk of flu-associated hospitalization and reduce the severity of your flu symptoms if you end up getting sick. Flu vaccines can be administered several ways. Flu Mist is a nasal spray that is inhaled through the nose and is a live virus that has been altered so it replicates in the nose and doesn’t cause the flu. All shot forms of the flu vaccine are inactivated and made up of particles of the virus. Experts still believe that flu shots work better than Flu Mist.
Sometimes people mistake flu symptoms with symptoms of the common cold. How can you tell the difference? Cold symptoms come on gradually over time. Flu symptoms like fever, chills and muscle aches come on rather abruptly. Another clue is headaches. You typically don’t get headaches with a common cold, but you often do get headaches with the flu due to the high fever and congestion. People infected with flu are most contagious during the first three to four days after their illness begins. Experts say if you are exposed to influenza, you can expect to see symptoms beginning about two days after exposure.
While it still may seem early in the season to get a flu shot, experts say don’t wait. “Flu shots take about two weeks to take effect in your body after receiving the shot, so get your flu shot early,” recommends Obgartel. It’s important to note that most commercial insurances, as well as Medicaid and Medicare, cover flu shots 100-percent. This means you will only pay out of pocket for a flu shot if you are uninsured. All AHL clinic locations offer flu shots for $20 to uninsured patients. To schedule an appointment, call 1-866-530-6111 to find the AHL location nearest you.