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Flu Season 2016: Facts and FAQs

Sep 19, 2016 By One Medical
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First, a few flu facts: Did you know that influenza (aka the flu) afflicts roughly 60 million Americans annually? Or that there are multiple varieties of flu viruses? (Type A causes the most extensive and severe outbreaks, while type B tends to be milder.)

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.

Want to skip ahead?

Benefits of the Flu Shot

Getting Your Flu Shot at One Medical

How to Stay Healthy During Flu Season

What to Do If You Think You Have the Flu

Benefits of the Flu Shot

Should I get a seasonal flu shot?

Everyone stands to benefit from getting a seasonal flu shot. It’s the single best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from the flu. And 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 don’t offer 100 percent protection against the flu, but they are more than 60 percent effective. When you consider how many millions of people are affected by the flu each year, 60 percent protection is nothing to sneeze at!

What kind of flu vaccine should I get?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends only injectable flu vaccines this season because the inactivated nasal vaccine (LAIV) wasn’t shown to be as effective. 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. Flu viruses can mutate from year to year, and the CDC takes all appropriate measures to ensure this season’s vaccine suitably matches the viruses currently in circulation.

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 (epidemics of infectious diseases) 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 all One Medical locations.

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.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also licensed a new flu vaccine called FLUAD that contains an adjuvant for adults 65 years of age and older. An adjuvant is an ingredient added to a vaccine that creates an immune response to vaccination, helping protecting you better. FLUAD is only licensed and approved for people 65 years and older. There haven’t been any randomized studies comparing FLUAD to the high-dose vaccine.

What kind of flu shots do children need?

Children should get the flu shot recommended by their health care provider. Per CDC guidelines, the inactivated nasal vaccine (LAIV) is no longer recommended because it hasn’t been shown to be as effective as the standard flu shot.

At One Medical, pediatric members can receive their flu shot at our Family Practice offices in New York and the San Francisco Bay Area.

When is the best time to get a flu shot?

It’s never too late to get the flu shot! But it’s best to get your flu shot early on, before flu season peaks. “Flu season” in the United States can begin as early as October and last as late as May.

Also, 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 as you can!

Are flu vaccines safe?

Yes. Flu vaccines have been studied carefully and are generally very safe. However, if you’ve had an allergic reaction (or other bad reaction) to a vaccine in the past, be sure to let your healthcare provider know before you receive any vaccine. Side effects are uncommon and limited to low grade fever, mild aches, and a sore arm. The risk of a significant complication is – at most – estimated as affecting approximately one in one million people who receive the vaccine.

What if I’m allergic to eggs?

Flu vaccines are most often made in an egg-based manufacturing process. The vaccine viruses are actually injected into fertilized hen’s eggs and incubated to let the viruses replicate, and the virus-containing fluid is then harvested from the eggs. Let your provider know if you are allergic to eggs. Most people with egg allergies can safely take the vaccine, but it depends on the severity of your allergy.

If you are allergic to eggs, the CDC has updated their recommendations this season to reflect the following:

  • If you experience only hives after being exposed to eggs, you can get any licensed flu vaccine that’s appropriate for your age and health.
  • If you experience any symptoms other than hives when you’re exposed to eggs (like breathing problems or dizziness), or you’ve needed epinephrine or other emergency medical treatment in the past, you can also get any licensed flu vaccine appropriate for your age and health. However, you must get the vaccine in a medical setting supervised by a healthcare provider who can recognize and manage 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, the vaccine costs $25 out-of-pocket, and the high-dose is $50. 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?

For expedited service and care, we’re hosting special Flu Clinic hours – with extra staffing and extended hours. Click below to see when the Flu Clinic will be in your area:

Members can walk into any One Medical location during normal lab hours to receive a flu shot. In New York, walk-in flu shots will only be available during our special Flu Clinic hours, on the rotating schedule linked to above. If you cannot make it to a Flu Clinic, you may ask your provider for a flu shot during your next appointment.

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, but also 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.

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 plenty of sleep (eight hours a night is ideal), drink plenty of water, and eat plenty of 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 are in the at-risk group described above, you should consider taking an antiviral medication like oseltamivir or zanamivir to further reduce your chances.

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
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Cough
  • 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?

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. However, flu symptoms can occur in other diseases like pneumonia and pertussis (whooping cough) as well, so to be certain, contact your primary care provider to see whether a visit is necessary. There has been a jump in pertussis cases in the past few years because immunity from the new tetanus-pertussis-diphtheria vaccine lasts only several years, so if your predominant symptom is a loud, uncontrollable cough, your healthcare provider may want to see you.

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).

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.

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 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 the 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?

Check out 8 Ways to Keep the Flu at Bay. And follow One Medical on Facebook and Twitter for updates when new information emerges.

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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Portland, 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.