Flu season is inevitable, but a little information can make the difference between living through it and suffering from it. It’s important to know how to best prevent the flu as well as its symptoms and what to do to keep yourself and others safe.
Stats for the Flu in California
There is a lot of misinformation about the flu and the flu vaccine, which helps increase the number of people inflicted with the flu in California and the rest of the United States. Contrary to popular belief, the flu isn’t just a seasonal cold that comes and goes and has no cure. Though they have similar symptoms, the common cold shows symptoms gradually while symptoms of the flu are more sudden.
On average, between 3 and 11% of the population of the U.S. is likely to become affected by the flu and show symptoms. In the 2019-2020 flu season, there have been 658 flu-related deaths in California alone. Of those 658, approximately 16 were children under the age of 6 months. Children younger than 4 years old are generally the most at risk of being infected with the flu.
Who Is Most at Risk for the Flu?
Most people who are infected with the flu will experience milder symptoms — especially if they get the flu vaccine — and won’t need to visit a doctor. However, the flu can be extremely dangerous for certain people, such as:
- Children under 6 months old
- Adults older than 65 years
- People who are pregnant or were pregnant less than two weeks prior
- People who live or work in long-term care or nursing homes
Additionally, several conditions and illnesses can make the flu dangerous for a person, even if they don’t fall into the aforementioned categories. Some examples of those issues include:
- Asthma or any chronic condition affecting the lungs
- Neurological conditions, like cerebral palsy
- Blood disorders, like sickle cell
- Any conditions affecting major organs, such as the liver or kidney
- Heart disease
- Any illness or condition that weakens the immune system, such as HIV or leukemia
What Are Flu Shots and Do They Work?
The flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and everyone around you from the flu. Its effectiveness can vary, but studies have shown flu shots to reduce the risk of being infected by 40 to 60% in the overall population.
The flu virus mutates every year, and the flu vaccine is designed to target the strain of the virus that doctors believe will be the most harmful by introducing small amounts of the virus into your body. A couple of weeks after getting the flu shot, your body will begin to create antibodies that will work with the virus from the vaccine to protect the body against infections.
There are generally two types of injections for the flu, which protect against three or four different viruses:
- Trivalent: Recommended to boost immune systems of people older than 65, this vaccine contains three influenza viruses — two of influenza A and one of influenza B.
- Quadrivalent: The vaccine that is most common for everyone under 65, it contains four influenza viruses — two each of influenza A and influenza B.
Even if you believe you’re completely healthy and unlikely to get the flu, the flu shot helps prevent the spread of the virus. Some people may have the virus in their bodies but not show any symptoms. That virus can still be spread and infect someone with a weaker immune system. It also protects those who are unable to receive a flu vaccine, such as very young children, people who are pregnant or people allergic to any ingredients in the vaccine.
Where to Get a Flu Shot in California
Luckily, the dangers and risks of the flu in California are well documented, making flu vaccines a necessity for the general population. The best time to get the flu vaccine is at the start of flu season so the vaccine has time to take effect, which usually takes about two weeks.
Your family doctor can likely give you the flu shot, as will most walk-in clinics. Some other places you can get the flu vaccine are:
- Health centers: The California Department of Public Health provides a handy tool to find the health center closest to you.
- Pharmacies: Many pharmacies now offer walk-in flu vaccinations. Just call ahead to ensure the pharmacy you’re visiting is stocked.
- Schools or workplaces: Some schools provide free flu shots for students. You can also promote flu shots in your workplace and provide free vaccines to employees.
You can also use vaccinefinder.org to search by zip code to find the most convenient location to get a flu shot.
How to Tell If You Have the Flu
Symptoms of the flu can be very similar to symptoms of the common cold, and they don’t require a visit to see the doctor unless they become severe. Common flu symptoms are mild and include:
- Cough or sore throat
- Runny or stuffed nose
- Aching muscles
Some people may also experience a fever of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit or nausea. Vomiting and diarrhea are more common symptoms of the flu in children.
Ways to Prevent the Flu
As mentioned, one of the most effective ways of preventing the flu is by getting the flu shot every year. Additionally, you can do several other things in your everyday life to limit the chance of infection:
- Wash your hands: Germs are everywhere, so make sure you wash your hands regularly and properly.
- Stay home when sick: Prevent infecting others by staying home when you’re sick if it’s possible. Similarly, avoid close contact with people showing flu symptoms.
- Cover when you cough: Cough or sneeze into your elbow to prevent germs from spreading. If you use a tissue, make sure to dispose of it straight away and wash your hands right after.
- Avoid touching your face: Touching your eyes, nose or mouth increases the risk of being infected by flu viruses.
- Live healthily: Eat well and exercise regularly to keep your immune system strong. You can even try immune boost IV therapy to give your system a little extra strength.
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