I had the flu three times in my life, and it taught me one thing—I get a flu shot every year. Last year, despite having a flu shot in October, I got the flu anyway. It happens. Flu shots only protect us from the most common strains that are predicted for that year, and the predicted strains are included in the vaccine. Some years, the vaccines have better coverage than other years.
Getting the flu made me even more determined to have a shot this year, so recently when I wandered past a booth at the United States Conference on AIDS, I happily stuck out my arm. The shot is covered by insurance, and now presumably I’m protected against the flu.
A common question I hear is, “Can I get a flu shot when I am on hep C treatment?” My parents asked me if they could get one while they are on chemo. My answer is always, “Yes, and the sooner the better.” Getting the flu when you are on chemo or other treatment is a drag, and in some cases, can lead to serious consequences.
So the best way to avoid getting the flu is through vaccination. Contrary to popular myths, vaccination does not give us the flu—it protects us from getting it. And, if you don’t get the flu, you can’t spread it to others.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend a yearly flu vaccine for everyone six months of age and older as the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease. Those who should not get a flu shot are:
- Children younger than 6 months of age.
- People who have had a severe allergic reaction to influenza vaccine
- Those who have a moderate-to-severe illness with or without a fever (they should wait until they recover to get vaccinated)
- Anyone with a history of Guillain–Barré Syndrome that occurred after receiving influenza vaccine and who are not at risk for severe illness from flu should generally not receive vaccine. A doctor will help them decide whether the vaccine is recommended.
A flu shot will not protect you against a cold. Colds are also caused by viruses, but they are not influenza viruses. To protect yourself from a cold, practice good handwashing techniques. The CDC says handwashing is like a “do-it-yourself” vaccine. Think you know how to wash your hands? Think again. Most of us don’t do it correctly. Click here to learn more about good handwashing techniques. A recent study showed the WHO handwashing technique is better, so click here for information about that.
So, get a flu shot and wash your hands well and often. May you stay healthy through the flu season.
For more information about the flu, visit Flu.gov. #GetAFluVax