Be prepared: How to stay healthy this flu season

September 24, 2019

by Jessica Ennis for UCHealth

Winter is coming in Colorado. Our favorite Game of Thrones one-liner reminds us to always be prepared and especially rings true when it comes to a real-life threat: flu season. We talked to Dr. Mihir Patel, Family medicine physician at UCHealth Primary Care – Castle Rock, to find out what we mere mortals can do to stay healthy and avoid the dreaded flu.

When does flu season start?

A doctor checks a young boy's lungs with a stethoscope.
The Centers for Disease Control recommend that anyone 6 months of age or older get a flu shot. Photo: UCHealth.

Typically, we see flu beginning in the early fall until early spring, from October to March.

What is the best way to protect against the flu?

Hands down, the number one thing you can do is get the flu shot every year, right before the season starts. This is one of the few vaccines available for a virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) work very hard each year to make sure the vaccine covers the most common flu strains to cast the widest protective net.

Who should get the flu shot?

Anyone 6 months old all the way to the elderly should get the flu vaccine. There are several populations that are especially at risk, including very young children, anyone over the age of 65, and anyone with respiratory issues or weakened immune systems. That includes conditions like COPD, asthma, diabetes, and cancer.

It’s also important for pregnant women to get the flu shot to help protect their baby, since infants must be 6 months old before they can get their first flu shot. And, people over the age of 65 should make sure they receive the “high dose” flu vaccine.

Is the flu really that bad?

The flu may just be a virus, but the problem is that it is highly contagious and active. Just getting the flu makes you sick enough to make you miserable, but the flu can lead to other complications like pneumonia and that can make even healthy people very, very sick.

Dr. Miril Patel
Dr. Miril Patel

Can the flu shot give me the flu?

You cannot and will not contract the flu from a flu shot. There is no live flu virus in the shot. You may get a localized reaction like tenderness as the site of the shot or mild flu-like symptoms like chills, runny nose, headache or a slight fever, but that should be short-lived.

Can I still get the flu if I got a flu shot?

There is a chance you could still get the flu even if you got a flu vaccine. If you do get the flu, you may have picked up a mutated strain or a new strain not covered by the vaccine. You won’t get as sick as you would have if you never got the shot, and you have a far less chance of having flu-related complications.

What else can I do to stay healthy during flu season?

  1. It stands worth repeating; get the flu vaccine.
  2. Next, practice what those of us in healthcare call “universal precautions”:
        • Wash your hands frequently
        • Keep frequently-touched surfaces clean
        • Try not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth
        • Avoid close contact with other people who are sick
        • If you are sick, stay home and don’t spread it
        • Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze

What should I do if I think I have the flu?

Since the common cold can mimic the flu, you need to get checked by your physician who can do a test to diagnose the flu. If you are diagnosed within 72 hours of your first flu symptoms, we can prescribe Tamiflu. Tamiflu won’t completely get rid of the flu, but it may help decrease the symptoms and the duration.

Where can I get the flu shot?

Current patients of UCHealth can make a same-day nurse appointment to receive the flu shot or come to one of our many convenient flu clinics. It’s easy to schedule an appointment using the My Health Connection patient portal or the UCHealth app. If you’re a new patient, find the UCHealth primary care location closest to you and call to schedule an appointment with a UCHealth provider.