Seasonal flu or influenza is generally a mild illness, but it can lead to complications and even death. Most deaths due to influenza occur in 65+ years of age, but young healthy people can also develop severe complications.
The flu vaccine or flu shot provides protection against the 3 most common strains of influenza virus circulating in that particular season. This protection lasts for about a year.
Guidelines from US suggest that everyone above 6 months of age should get a flu shot every year. The flu shot is strongly recommended for pregnant women, children less than 5 years, especially for children less than 2 years of age; as well as adults above 65 years of age. It is also strongly recommended for people with Diabetes Mellitus, Asthma, long-term steroid medication use, and long-term diseases of the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, nervous system and immune system.
The side-effects are usually mild, and can range from occasional pain at the injection site, redness and swelling at the injection site and mild fever. Flu vaccine should not be given to people who have had a severe allergic reaction to the flu vaccine or its ingredients.
The full effect of the flu shot starts 2 weeks after the shot. Even then it is still possible to get cough and cold, and even flu after getting the flu shot. This is because the antigens in the vaccine may not exactly match the viruses prevalent during a season. However, even if the matching is not perfect, there is some cross-protection of the vaccine against other virus types which helps to reduce the complications associated with flu.
Flu vaccine is available every year in August-September in India. Please ask your Family Doctor about vaccinating yourself and your family members.
Apart from the vaccine, everyone should also practice the following steps to prevent flu:
– Wash hands frequently, with soap+water or with hand sanitizer, especially before eating or drinking.
– Keep hydrated, with about 3-4L of fluids per day
– Eat lots of fruits, vegetables and salads
– Avoid crowded public places
– If you get flu-like symptoms, stay at home, keep hydrated, and talk to your doctor.
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