This year’s flu vaccine should be very protective against the current influenza strains, so as Thanksgiving approaches, now is the perfect time to get your flu shot.
“The countdown to Thanksgiving and the other holidays has started. ‘Tis the season — for germs,” said infectious disease expert Dr. Michelle Barron.
She keeps a close eye on data and studies from South America and Australia to get early insights into how the flu season is likely to develop in the United States.
A recent study of flu cases in South America found that this year’s vaccine did an excellent job of protecting against severe illness and hospitalization, said Barron, who is UCHealth’s senior medical director of infection prevention and control and a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
“It’s a great match,” Barron said. “The vaccine is well matched to the strains that are actually causing infections this year. We don’t always have that.”
Who should get a flu shot?
A flu shot is recommended for everyone ages 6 months and older.
When should I get my flu vaccine?
Get your flu vaccine now. The flu season typically worsens in the fall and winter. Cases can spread more easily when people gather for the holidays and spend time in crowded, indoor settings.
How can I learn more about influenza?
She compares a well-matched flu vaccine (efficacy) to a hot-shot guard who is roaming around our bodies, ready to go after bad guys. If the shot is good, the immunities in our bodies are well-primed to spot attackers and nab them before they make us severely ill.
“It’s like the FBI’s Most Wanted List,” Barron said. “Your body knows what the top bad guys look like, and if an attacker shows up on your doorstep (or in your body), there’s no ambiguity about what it is.”
If you get your vaccine this year, your body will be ready to rustle up the bad guys and knock them out before they sicken you.
“That’s a really good thing because there’s no ambiguity, and your immune system will be primed to go after the virus,” Barron said.
With Thanksgiving approaching, now is the perfect time to get your vaccine (if you haven’t already)
Vaccine makers have to make educated guesses as they create flu shots well in advance of the respiratory virus season. Sometimes, the guesses are only so-so. But the ingredients in this year’s vaccine appear to be right on target.
“This means that if you get your flu vaccine this year — which I strongly encourage — you will have great protection against whatever is circulating,” Barron said.
It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the flu shot and other vaccines to become fully effective. So Barron is encouraging people to get their flu vaccines now (if they haven’t already). That way, they’ll be fully protected when holiday gatherings begin this month.
“Now is great because Thanksgiving and all of the major holidays that involve gatherings and travel are about to occur,” she said.
“If you get the flu, you’re going to feel pretty lousy, and you could miss out on holiday gatherings. That’s really sad,” she said. “So, if you haven’t gotten your flu shot yet, now is the optimal time to get your vaccine.”
Barron said it’s very common for the flu season to hit suddenly. Typically, there will be a handful of cases, and then hospitalizations will suddenly shoot up.
“I suspect that in the next couple of weeks, we’ll really see a very high escalation in flu cases,” she said.
So before that happens, Barron urges people to visit their doctor’s office, a flu clinic at work or a drug store and get a jab.
Answers to frequently asked questions or FAQs about flu:
On top of getting your flu vaccine as soon as possible, how else should you prepare for the flu season? We went over some of the basics with Barron.
Some people think that they get the flu from the flu shot. Is that possible?
No, the flu shot does not give you the flu. It is possible to already have been exposed to the flu before you get your vaccine. Also, in some years, the vaccine isn’t a great match, so you can still get the flu if you’re vaccinated. Even so, a flu vaccine will help reduce the severity of illness and will help prevent hospitalizations and deaths.
“Even if the vaccine is not 100% effective at preventing a case of the flu, it does make it milder, and it almost universally keeps you out of the hospital, which is a big deal,” Barron said.
Wait a minute. I thought the flu isn’t all that deadly these days. Do a lot of people still die from the flu?
Yes, the flu is still quite deadly. And thanks to vaccines, deaths from the flu are preventable. That’s why it’s so vital to get your flu shot every year.
Experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that between 17,000 and 98,000 people died from the flu during the 2022-23 flu season. (The data are still preliminary. That’s why the range is so broad.) In addition, up to 50 million people in the U.S. probably got the flu last year, and well over half a million people had to be hospitalized due to the flu.
How long does it take for your flu shot to be fully effective?
It takes about two weeks to be fully effective, so get your jab now, Barron said.
Is it too late to get your flu shot?
No, it’s not too late. Don’t worry about timing your shot perfectly. Just get your flu vaccine as soon as possible.
What are the typical symptoms of the flu?
“The typical flu symptoms are high fever, body aches, runny nose, sore throat and cough,” Barron said.
A case of the flu can come on very suddenly. People can feel exhausted. Your appetite may be poor. But even if you don’t feel like eating or drinking, it’s really important to stay hydrated.
What if I’m feeling lousy? Should I call my doctor’s office or just stay home to rest and recover?
There is a medication which can help people recover faster if they get the flu. It’s called Tamiflu. But in order to shorten the severity and length of illness, a sick person needs to receive Tamiflu within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.
Barron advises people who are especially vulnerable to call for help if they think they might have the flu.
“We have tests available. If you have the flu, we can help you. Tamilflu is a treatment option, and it can shorten the duration of the disease.”
How can I avoid getting the flu?
First, get your vaccine. Second, if you are immunocompromised, wear a mask in crowded indoor settings and, if possible, avoid crowds.
If you are sick, stay home from work or social gatherings.
“I don’t like being the flu police, but anybody with cold symptoms should consider wearing a mask to protect other people. Nobody wants to get the flu,” Barron said.
What are the best remedies for the flu?
If you get diagnosed early in the course of your illness, you can take Tamiflu. (That’s a prescription medication, so you’ll need to call your doctor.)
If you are recovering at home, Barron recommends basic over the counter medications.
“And good old-fashioned chicken soup can help you feel better,” Barron said.
When do I need to go into a doctor or seek help at a hospital for the flu?
“Any time you develop breathing problems or your fever isn’t going away, you definitely need to seek medical attention,” Barron said.
Who is especially vulnerable if they get sick with the flu?
Very young babies and older adults are especially vulnerable. Immunocompromised people can also get very sick if they get the flu. This includes people who are being treated for cancer and people who have had organ transplants.
Barron said people with breathing difficulties like underlying asthma and lung disease also can get very sick with the flu.
They should be sure to get their flu shots and should be careful to avoid getting sick during the peak respiratory illness season during the fall and winter.
Any final advice about the flu?
“Just do yourself a favor, and get your shot,” Barron said. “Stay heathy so you can enjoy the holidays.”