by JOHN DAWKINS, M.D.; Scripps Clinic, Del Mar

Get the Facts about the Flu

scripps_dawkinsAs the weather cools, football fans rejoice, and families look forward to holidays — and no one wants the flu to slow them down. If knowledge is power, then the following flu facts should help you prevent this annual affliction from foiling your fall and winter fun.

Can you get the flu from the vaccine?
No, the flu vaccine, which generally includes three to four flu strains and covers the likely types of influenza A and B, can’t give you the flu. The flu shot contains dead viruses or no viruses, so you can’t catch the flu from getting one. You might have aches or a low fever, or your arm might hurt, but these side effects are generally mild. While the nasal spray flu vaccine does contain live viruses, they are weakened and cannot cause the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

How does the flu spread?
The flu spreads through respiratory droplets. Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough so any droplets with flu fluids are not spread through the air. It’s best if you can sneeze into a tissue or paper towel, but if you don’t have those handy, sneeze into the crook of your elbow and wash your clothes before wearing them again. Don’t sneeze into your hands because the virus will be transferred to any surface you touch, such as a door knob. To avoid flying droplets from others, put your arm over your face and turn away.

How far should I stand from someone with the flu?
If they are coughing or sneezing, try to keep your distance from someone who is suffering from the flu. Infectious flu-containing particles can travel at least six feet.

I think I had the flu. Should I still get vaccinated?
Yes, even if you think you have had the flu already, get your flu shot. Unless you were tested for the flu virus, you may not have had the flu, and even if you were diagnosed with the flu, you had one strain of the virus. The vaccine protects against several strains of the virus, so getting vaccinated lowers your risk of getting sick from other strains.

Where did the name originate?
Influenza earned its name from an Italian folk word that attributed colds, cough, and fever to the influence of the stars.

How long can the virus last?
The influenza virus generally can survive on surfaces such as doorknobs or books between two and eight hours, according to the CDC.

When is flu season?
In the United States, flu season occurs in the fall and winter, with seasonal flu activity peaking in January or February. However, flu outbreaks can occur as early as October and as late as May.

Where do I get immunized?
Vaccines are offered in several settings, including your primary care doctor’s office and many pharmacies. If you request it, pharmacies will let your doctor’s office know that you received the vaccine. Check with your health plan about cost so you can determine which setting makes the most sense for you and your family. Many health plans cover the flu shot as it is considered preventive care.

John Dawkins, M.D., is a board-certified family medicine and sports medicine physician at Scripps Clinic in Del Mar. Dr. Dawkins believes in partnering with his patients to support them in making healthy lifestyle choices. When not treating patients, Dr. Dawkins enjoys outdoor activities, including surfing, fishing, marine biology, and international travel.

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