As the seasons shift from summer to fall and leaves begin to change colors, thoughts turn to football, cooler days – and flu shots.
“Typically, flu season begins in October, peaks between December and February and can extend into May,” said Dr. Shannon Becker, a family medicine physician at UCHealth Primary Care – Craig. “While the severity and duration of each flu season can change, we see cases every year.”
Flu vs. influenza vs. stomach flu
When discussing the flu, it’s important to delineate between a few common terms, as they’re not all interchangeable.
“The flu, or influenza, is a viral infection that occurs in seasonal outbreaks due to the virus’ ability to mutate and change,” Becker said. “Influenza A, B and C are all different types of flu that produce upper respiratory symptoms.”
The stomach flu, on the other hand, isn’t related to the influenza family of viruses.
“When someone says they have the stomach flu, they are often experiencing an irritation or inflammation of the lining of the stomach or intestines, often referred to as gastroenteritis, that can be caused by other viruses,” Becker said. “Those viruses include norovirus, adenovirus and rotavirus. They don’t usually cause upper respiratory symptoms like influenza.”
Flu shot facts
According to Becker, there are a few things everyone should keep in mind about flu shots.
- Everyone should consider getting a flu shot in September or October as it takes the body about two weeks to develop an antibody response. Anyone six months or older is eligible for the vaccine. Flu shots are especially important for young, elderly, pregnant women and people with comorbidities, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or congestive heart failure. Schedule an appointment for a flu shot with your primary care doctor.
- The goal of a flu shot is to prevent severe infections should you get sick. It can also help prevent complications from the flu, like pneumonia or hospitalization.
- Flu shots are given on an annual basis. Influenza viruses constantly change and mutate. Each year’s flu vaccine is based on these mutations, giving it the best possible match to fight against the virus.
- You can’t get the flu from the flu shot. Becker said it’s possible that you could contract the flu or another virus at the time you receive a flu shot, but that’s simply a coincidence in timing.
Importantly, with any questions about flu shots or your health, Becker recommends talking with your health care provider.
“We want patients to be comfortable receiving their annual flu shot,” she said. “We don’t care if you get your flu shot at a medical clinic, a local pharmacy or at a big-box store — we just encourage you to receive it in a timely manner.”
What does this flu season hold?
Flu activity was relatively low during the 2020-21 flu season, likely due to the safety precautions in place to fight against COVID-19.
“Almost everyone was vigilant and consistent with their preventive health measures last flu season — people wore masks and washed their hands frequently, they stayed home from work if they weren’t feeling well, and they cleaned and disinfected objects and surfaces more frequently,” said Becker. “These are things everyone can do, regardless of a pandemic, to keep themselves and those around them healthy.”
If you feel unwell, stay home, and if you’re experiencing symptoms, get tested. Colds, allergies, flu and COVID-19 have similar symptoms, so without a test, it’s hard to determine what is causing symptoms.
Health care providers caution that the upcoming flu season could be worse this year, especially if people are more relaxed when it comes to preventive measures — which is even more reason to get a flu shot.