How You Can Prevent the Flu

With flu season around the corner, you may be wondering about the best way to stay safe, healthy and flu-free. The answer may be simpler than you think – the flu shot!  Dr. Steven Spivey, one of our family medicine physicians at Lexington Medical Center, shared why getting the vaccine is so important, who is at risk and other preventative steps for warding off influenza.

“The flu is a seasonal viral respiratory illness that is one of the most potent infections in the very young and elderly, but can affect anyone,” explained Dr. Spivey. “It can be life-threatening and is unfortunately responsible for hospitalizations and deaths every year.”

The flu is an airborne illness that is spread mostly by cough and is highly contagious. Typical symptoms are cough, achiness, severe fatigue, shortness of breath and fever. 

Dr. Spivey explained that individuals age 65 years and older, smokers and patients with a history of respiratory illness, like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, are at the highest risk of getting the flu (patients age 65 and older may be eligible to receive a high dose vaccine and should ask their doctor if they are a candidate).

However, he said that the flu can hit anyone and advised protecting yourself with the flu shot. There are a few exceptions.  Children less than 6 months of age should not be vaccinated.  Also, patients with true allergy to the vaccine or serious neurologic side effects from previous vaccination should hold off. “Very few folks are allergic to the vaccine,” said Dr. Spivey. “For those who have a true anaphylactic egg allergy, other vaccine strategies may be available.” 

Dr. Spivey also dispelled some common concerns that people may have about getting immunized. “There are lots of myths about flu vaccine, like that you don’t need to get the shot every year or that it can make you sick,” he said. “It’s important to know that nothing in the injection can cause the flu. It’s also important to get the flu shot annually, because the vaccine protects against different flu strains each year.” 

The bottom line, according to Dr. Spivey, is that even though the flu shot may not be perfect, having the vaccine on board provides protection and greatly reduces your chance of having a severe infection if you happen to get the flu. 

Remember - if you think you’ve been exposed to the flu, see a doctor immediately, within one to two days at the latest, as medications like Tamiflu are only effective if started early. Also, always practice regular hand washing and avoid contact with individuals who are infected.

Without a question, the flu shot is the best way to safeguard ourselves from influenza this season. Please take a few minutes to get your shot and encourage those around you to do the same.  The more people who get the flu shot, the less likely there will be an outbreak this year and the healthier our community will be!