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Get your flu shot – ideally before November

What would you do about a viral infection that affects 5-20% of the United States population annually, causes more than 200,000 hospitalizations from complications, and kills about 36,000 people every year?

You would get your flu shot, of course!

Unfortunately, flu season is back. There have already been reported cases of influenza in New Mexico for the 2019-20 flu season.

The flu is not just a bad cold, it is a much more significant infection. While there are some overlapping symptoms between the flu and a cold, the symptoms of flu are much more severe and longer lasting.

With a cold, one may experience low-grade fever, runny nose, congestion, headache, sore throat, cough and mild body aches. The symptoms are most severe for the first few days and resolve over the course of a week or so.

With influenza, sufferers experience high fever for up to seven days, runny nose, congestion, headache, sore throat, cough, severe body aches, chills, nausea, diarrhea and possibly vomiting. It may take two weeks or more for the symptoms to completely resolve.

While the flu may be a miserable experience to have, it can also be associated with significant complications, such as pneumonia, dehydration, brain damage, ear or sinus infections, worsening asthma symptoms and even death.

The best things that you and your family can do to avoid catching the flu are to wash hands frequently and get a flu shot.

It can take about two weeks after getting your flu shot for your immune system to produce protection, so it would be ideal to have gotten your flu shot by the end of October.

While there is a universal recommendation for everyone who is able to get their flu shot, there are some populations that are considered to be at high risk for having more severe disease and complications.

Those who are considered high risk include: young children up to age 5; Native Americans; pregnant women; people who have asthma or chronic lung disease; those who have certain neurological conditions, such as cerebral palsy, seizures and developmental delay; individuals with muscular dystrophy; people who suffer from diabetes; people who have liver or kidney disorders; and individuals who have weakened immune systems from medical conditions or medications.

Babies younger than 6 months of age, people who have had severe life-threatening allergic reactions to a flu vaccine or its components, and people who have had Guillain-Barre Syndrome should not receive the flu vaccine.

In order to protect those who are unable to receive a flu vaccine it is important for everyone around them to get their flu shot. Individuals 9 years of age and older need to receive only one dose of flu vaccine per flu season. Children under 9 who have never received a flu vaccine, or who have only ever received one previous dose, will need to receive two doses given 28 days apart for full protection.

Is it possible to get the flu from the flu vaccine?

Absolutely not!

The injectable flu vaccine contains pieces of the viral protein coat, but does not contain any virus. For those individuals who report getting the flu from their flu shot, it is most likely that they either produced a very vigorous immune response to the vaccine or it was coincidental in timing that they were getting sick, anyway.

The most common side effects of a flu shot are localized tenderness, swelling and a small bump at the site of injection, as well as fever, headache and muscle aches.

The flu vaccine protects against four different strains of the flu and may be given at the same time as other recommended immunizations.

There is also a flu vaccine that can be given as a nasal spray; however, this may not be widely available this flu season.

Melissa Mason is a general pediatrician with Journey Pediatrics in Albuquerque. Please send your questions to her at