As soon as the influenza (flu) vaccine is available in your community, the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) recommends everyone six months and older be vaccinated. Because of concerns about how well the nasal spray vaccine worked during the past two flu seasons, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices is recommending people get a flu shot and not the nasal spray. Getting an annual flu vaccine is the first and best way to protect yourself and your family from the flu.
“We recommend people get a flu shot by the end of October, if possible. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the body’s immune response to fully respond and for you to be protected,” said IDPH Director Nirav D. Shah, M.D., J.D. “Protection from the flu vaccine typically lasts a year for most people, so if you get a flu shot now, it will still be effective for the duration of the flu season, which can last as late as May.”
The flu season typically begins in October and peaks between December and March. The flu is a contagious respiratory illness that can cause mild to severe illness. Serious cases of flu can result in hospitalization or death.
Getting a flu shot can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and missed work and school due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations. The more people who get vaccinated, the more people will be protected from flu, especially those who may not be able to be vaccinated, such as babies under six months. Anyone can get the flu, even healthy people. Getting a flu shot is the first and most important step in protecting you and those around you against flu viruses.
Flu symptoms can include fever or feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headache, tiredness, and some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
Flu is typically spread by droplets when someone with the flu talks, coughs, or sneezes. People can also get the flu by touching something, like a door handle, that has the virus on it and then touching their mouth, eyes, or nose.
On average, it’s about two days after being exposed to the flu before symptoms begin. However, you can pass the flu to someone roughly a day before you start experiencing those symptom, and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick.
In addition to getting a flu shot, IDPH recommends following the 3 C’s: clean, cover, and contain. Clean – frequently wash your hands with soap and warm water. Cover – cover your cough and sneeze. Contain – contain your germs by staying home if you are sick.
Influenza antiviral drugs can be a second line of defense for treatment of some who get sick with the flu. Many observational studies have found that in addition to lessening the duration and severity of symptoms, antiviral drugs can prevent flu complications. Because it is important to start antiviral medication quickly, high-risk patients should contact a health care professional at the first signs of influenza symptoms, which include sudden onset of fever, aches, chills, and tiredness.
To find a location to get a flu shot in your community, check with your health care provider or local health department. You can also use the online Vaccine Finder.