Did you know that influenza (aka the flu) afflicts roughly 60 million Americans annually? Or that there are multiple varieties of flu viruses? Keep your flu IQ sharp with these helpful tips for staying healthy during flu season. Not sure whether to get a flu shot? Not to worry — our FAQs will help you arrive at an informed decision.
Benefits of the flu shot
Should I get a seasonal flu shot?
Everyone can benefit from getting a seasonal flu shot. It’s the single best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from the flu. It’s especially important if you are pregnant (or planning to become pregnant), are over the age of 50, have any sort of chronic medical condition, or are caring for someone who is at risk for complications of influenza. Flu shots reduce your risk of getting the flu — and lessen symptoms for who do get sick. For people over 50, getting the flu vaccine can reduce the risk of getting hospitalized from flu by 57 percent. And for children, flu-related intensive care admissions were reduced by 74 percent when children received flu shots. Even if you’re healthy, getting the flu shot protects those around you and builds herd immunity to help prevent epidemics.
What kind of flu vaccine should I get?
One Medical recommends only injectable flu vaccines because the nasal vaccine hasn’t been as effective during recent flu seasons. There are many different kinds of flu viruses, and the vaccines protect against the three or four that research suggests are the most common in this particular season.
Why is it important to get the flu shot every year?
Each year, flu vaccines are updated to better match circulating viruses. This is because flu viruses can mutate from season to season. Major mutations are often the cause of pandemics (a worldwide epidemic, or outbreak, of an infectious disease) because the immunity that we acquire over time from repeated exposure or vaccination may no longer be effective. This is why it’s especially important to get a flu shot each year instead of relying on vaccination from a previous season.
What kind of flu shots should elderly patients get?
For patients 65 years of age and older, we offer the high-dose flu shot at most One Medical locations — give us a call before you come in to make sure we have it. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the high-dose vaccine was 24.2% more effective in preventing flu in adults 65 years of age and older relative to a standard-dose vaccine.
What kind of flu shots do children need?
Children should get the flu shot recommended by their health care provider. There’s a special pediatric version of the flu shot for babies and kids 6 months to 3 years old. The nasal flu vaccine isn’t recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics because it hasn’t been as effective for children as the standard flu shot in recent flu seasons.
When is the best time to get a flu shot?
It’s best to get your flu shot early before flu season peaks, but it’s never too late. “Flu season” in the United States can begin as early as October and last as late as May. Keep in mind that it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop and protect you against the flu. So, it’s best to get the flu shot as soon in flu season as you can.
Are flu vaccines safe?
Yes. Flu vaccines have been studied carefully and are very safe. Some people experience a low grade fever, mild aches, or a sore arm for a day or two. The risk of a significant complication is — at most — approximately one in a million people who receive the vaccine. Talk to your provider if you’ve had a bad reaction to a vaccine in the past.
What if I’m allergic to eggs?
Flu vaccines are most often made in an egg-based manufacturing process, so let your provider know if you have an egg allergy. Even if you’re allergic to eggs, the CDC now says it’s safe to get a flu shot. Your provider may observe you for a short time after you receive the vaccine to monitor for complications. If you’ve had a serious reaction in the past, you can get an egg-free flu shot, or get a regular flu shot under the supervision of someone experienced with managing allergic reactions.
Getting your flu shot at One Medical
How much does the flu shot cost?
The vaccine is covered by most insurance plans. Alternatively, if don’t have insurance, you can pay out of pocket: $40 for the regular vaccine, $45 for the pediatric or egg-free vaccine, and $70 for the high-dose. Please check with your insurance carrier if you have questions concerning your coverage.
How do I prepare for the flu shot?
To save time in the office and expedite your service, we suggest you review the official Vaccine Information Sheet to learn more about the flu and flu vaccine before you come in for your shot.
What do I need to know about walk-in flu shots at One Medical?
Members can walk into any One Medical location during regular lab hours to receive a flu shot. You can find your One Medical location’s lab hours on our flu homepage. Worried about wait times? Give us a call in advance and we can let you know what to expect.
How to stay healthy during flu season
How does the flu spread?
Flu spreads person-to-person primarily from the airborne particles generated by coughing and sneezing, as well as by physical contact. It’s not clear whether the flu can be spread by touching items such as clothing or hard surfaces previously touched by someone with the virus.
How can I prevent spreading the flu?
Wash your hands frequently, cough and sneeze into your arm (not your hands), and throw out tissues immediately after use. If you get the flu, stay home and get well. Often, you don’t even need to head into the doctor’s office — give us a call or use Treat Me Now on the One Medical mobile app to find out if you need to schedule an appointment.
How can I protect myself from getting the flu?
- The single best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from the flu is to get the flu shot.
- Wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer frequently (although, soap and water is best). Be aware of touching surfaces like doorknobs, faucets, phones, and keyboards, and wash your hands afterward. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth unless you have clean hands.
- Try to stay at least six feet away from people who appear ill and avoid sharing food or drinks. Wearing a mask is not necessary.
- Keep your immune system healthy. Get enough sleep, drink plenty of water, and eat your fruits and vegetables. Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and other unhealthy vices.
Will I get sick if I have been exposed?
There’s no way to know for sure, but if you’ve followed the guidelines above, and especially if you’ve received the appropriate vaccinations, you’ve got a good chance of remaining healthy. If you’re in an at-risk group (young children, older adults, pregnant women, or those with serious medical conditions), talk to your primary care provider to see if you should consider taking medication to reduce your chances of contracting the flu.
What to do if you think you have the flu
What are the symptoms of the flu?
Flu symptoms are usually more severe than those of the common cold. Symptoms typically develop one day to seven days after exposure, and can last from a few days to two weeks. They may include any or all of the following:
- Fever (usually 100°F or higher, lasting for several days), often with chills
- Body aches or muscle aches
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Eye pain, such as burning, pain on eye movement or sensitivity to light
- Gastrointestinal symptoms, such as diarrhea or nausea and vomiting, are fairly uncommon
Not sure what’s ailing you?
While there are different strains of the flu, there are also a lot of other illnesses out there with similar symptoms that usually resolve on their own. If you’re not sure which you have, submit a case through the Treat Me Now feature in our app. It’s a completely free, on-demand service. You can also call any One Medical office 24/7 to speak with our Virtual Medical Team. We’re available anytime day or night to care for you.
Should I get tested for the flu?
If you have the symptoms described above during a flu outbreak, it’s likely you have the flu — even if you’ve been vaccinated — and there’s usually no need to be tested. If you’re not sure what to do, contact your primary care provider to see whether a visit is necessary.
In most cases, however, it’s best to stay at home and rest. And if you’re a One Medical member, use Treat Me Now on the app or call any office to speak with a member of our medical team. They’ll make sure you get the care you need without an unnecessary office visit.
What should I do if I get the flu?
There’s really no substitute for classic common-sense treatments. Rest, drink plenty of fluids, avoid alcohol and tobacco, and take acetaminophen (Tylenol) and/or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) for fever and body aches. Avoid aspirin if you’re under the age of 19 (children and teenagers can develop a severe disorder called Reye’s syndrome if they take aspirin when they have the flu). And contrary to some misconceptions, antibiotics won’t help you recover from the flu.
Prevent the spread of illness by washing your hands frequently, coughing and sneezing into your arm (not your hands), and throwing out tissues immediately after use. Don’t return to work or school until at least 24 hours after your fever breaks. You should start feeling better within a few days.
If you’re worried about complications of influenza (e.g., if you are becoming short of breath or your fever is recurring), or if your symptoms worsen, please call One Medical and ask to speak with someone on our medical team for more advice or to schedule an appointment. We’re available 24/7 to care for you.
Do antiviral medications like Tamiflu help?
During the first 48 hours of the illness, antiviral medications such as the oral drug oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or the inhaled drug zanamivir (Relenza) can lessen the severity and shorten the duration of the disease. However, if taken much longer than 48 hours after the onset of symptoms, they have little effect. Some side effects of these medications include nausea, diarrhea, and headache.
There are two categories of people who should take antiviral medications for the flu: People who are very sick with the flu (e.g., people whose illness is so severe they need to be hospitalized) and people who are sick with the flu and at risk of developing serious flu complications, either because of their age or because of a high-risk medical condition. If you have the flu but you’re not in either of these two categories, you likely don’t need to be treated with antiviral drugs.
How long will I be contagious? When can I return to work or school?
You’re contagious from the day before you develop symptoms until 24 hours after your fever breaks.
Don’t return to work or school until you have had a normal body temperature (under 100°F without taking a fever-lowering medication such as Advil or Tylenol) for at least 24 hours.
What are the health risks associated with the flu?
For the most part, the flu doesn’t pose serious health risks and gets better on its own. Although symptoms can feel severe, serious complications such as pneumonia are uncommon, and flu-related deaths remain rare, most occurring in people with serious underlying health problems like the elderly, children, and women in the second or third trimester of pregnancy.
Am I at risk for complications of the flu?
You are at increased risk for complications if:
- You are pregnant
- You have a chronic medical condition, such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, asthma, emphysema, cancer, or HIV
- You are age 65 or older
- You are younger than age 5
- You are younger than age 19 and are receiving long-term aspirin therapy
If you fall into any of these categories and are feeling sick, or have been exposed to someone with a confirmed case of influenza, call our office and ask to speak to a medical staff member for further guidance.
When should I go to an emergency room?
You should go directly to an emergency room for further evaluation and treatment if you have any of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing
- Pain or pressure in your chest or abdomen
- Bluish skin color (this may mean your lungs are not bringing enough oxygen into your body)
- Confusion or sudden dizziness
- Persistent or severe vomiting
Where can I read more about the flu?
The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.
Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. The One Medical Group entities and 1Life Healthcare, Inc. make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.