Health Conditions / Infectious Diseases / Cold and Flu

How Long Does It Take for the Flu Shot to Be Fully Effective?

How Long Does It Take for the Flu Shot to Be Fully Effective?

Flu season is in full swing, folks. Influenza, which ramped up early in the US this year, has already caused nearly 3 million illnesses, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The virus has also caused at least 23,000 hospitalizations and 1,300 deaths so far. So if you haven’t booked a flu shot appointment already, here’s your sign—especially because the vaccine’s protection doesn’t just magically appear overnight.In fact, it can take up to two weeks after your vaccination for your body to reap the optimal benefits, per the CDC. This is because it takes time for your immune system to respond to the vaccine, and so your body needs a minute to build up protective, flu-fighting antibodies.Because of this gap, the CDC usually recommends that people try to get vaccinated before the end of October—but that doesn’t mean it’s too late. According to the Mayo Clinic, even getting a flu shot as late as February can still help protect you from outbreaks that occur late in the season. Of course, the sooner you can get your shot, the better. (This is especially true for people who have a higher risk of flu complications, including people with certain health conditions, people older than 65, infants and toddlers, and those who are immunocompromised—as well as anyone who lives with a person in a high-risk group.)“The flu vaccine prevents millions of illnesses and flu-related doctors visits each year,” Diana Finkel, DO, an associate professor of infectious diseases at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, previously told SELF.Other common-sense precautions are also worth remembering this winter. As SELF previously reported, wearing a face mask and social distancing don’t just help slow the spread of COVID—these steps can also help protect you and those around you from the flu and other respiratory illnesses, like RSV or even the common cold.The bottom line: Since it takes up to two weeks for the flu shot to offer optimal protection, you should try to be extra vigilant until 14 days have passed since your appointment. And if you haven’t already gotten yours, make an appointment now to protect yourself—and your community—from an illness that’s already hospitalizing thousands.Related:

13 RSV Symptoms in Babies All Caregivers Should Be Aware of Right Now

13 RSV Symptoms in Babies All Caregivers Should Be Aware of Right Now

Thanks to the pandemic, you’re probably a lot more aware of infectious diseases than you ever thought you would be. We wouldn’t be surprised if you can recite the symptoms of COVID-19 in your sleep and know all about the importance of getting your annual flu shot (especially this year). But there’s another virus that’s making headlines right now that many people aren’t as well-versed in. It’s called respiratory syncytial virus, better known as RSV, and cases are currently soaring in the US, particularly in babies and young children.According to surveillance data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), RSV cases have been rising sharply since October. Public health experts are warning about the potential impact on kids, as the virus is overwhelming many hospitals and rapidly filling pediatric ICU beds. If you have kids—and an infant, in particular—here’s what you need to know about RSV symptoms in babies, plus when to seek medical care for a sick child.First, a little background on RSV.RSV is a common respiratory virus that usually causes coldlike symptoms, according to the CDC. In fact, doctors usually can’t tell just from your symptoms if you have RSV or another virus that causes the common cold, Danelle Fisher, MD, the chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells SELF.Most people recover just fine (in about a week or two) when they’re sick with RSV. However, the symptoms can potentially become serious for infants and other young children, as well as older adults and those with severely weakened immune systems. In fact, RSV is the most common cause of bronchiolitis, inflammation of the small airways in the lungs, and pneumonia, an infection of the lungs, in kids under the age of one in the US, per the CDC.“Because children less than two years of age have smaller lower airways, the inflammation, which results in mucus production, can occlude those small lower airways, leading to labored breathing and sometimes lower oxygen levels,” Rosemary Olivero, MD, a pediatric infectious disease physician at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, tells SELF. Kids two and older have larger lower airways, though, and “tend to have less respiratory difficulty with RSV infections,” even if their lower airways do get inflamed, Dr. Olivero says.Back to topHow does RSV spread to babies?It’s important to get this out of the way: Almost all children get RSV at least once before they’re two years old, per the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Infants usually get RSV from parents, other caregivers, or close family members, although they can also pick it up when they’re out in public too, John C. Brancato, MD, division head of emergency medicine at Connecticut Children’s, tells SELF.The virus spreads in a few ways, according to the CDC:When an infected person coughs or sneezes, which can circulate virus-laden droplets that then make contact with a child’s eyes, nose, or mouthWhen a person touches a surface that has the virus on it (like a doorknob or toy) and then touches a child’s face before washing their handsWhen a child has direct contact with the virus, like getting a hug or kiss from someone who is infected with RSV

Can Adults Get RSV From Children? What to Know as Cases Spike

Can Adults Get RSV From Children? What to Know as Cases Spike

Chances are, if you take care of young children—or have just been a bit on edge about this year’s cold and flu season—you’ve heard a lot about respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) lately. RSV isn’t exactly new: It’s a common virus that usually causes mild, cold-like symptoms. That said, very young children and older adults face a higher risk of getting really, really sick from it.This year, RSV is surging beyond expected case counts; in fact, it’s starting to overwhelm many hospitals, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In October, RSV caused a spike in pediatric hospitalizations that pushed some children’s medical centers to capacity. This is becoming a bigger concern everywhere, but the situation is especially bad in certain parts of the country. For instance, Orange County, California, recently declared a health emergency, and every single pediatric hospital bed in the state of Rhode Island was full this week, according to reporting from NBC News.As infections continue to spread, you may be wondering: Can adults get RSV from children? Rest assured that most of us have been exposed to the virus before—but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be super aware of its impact right now, especially if you have vulnerable loved ones around. Below, what you should know about RSV in adults, including common symptoms and how you can reduce your risk of catching—and transmitting—this virus.Can adults get RSV from kids?First, some important context: You’ve likely already been infected with RSV. “Almost everyone sees RSV by the time they’re two and develops antibodies,” Thomas Russo, MD, an infectious disease expert at the University of Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, tells SELF.But, as is the case with most respiratory viruses, your immunity to RSV wanes over time, meaning you’ll likely get infected again and again over the course of your life. This is especially true for parents or other caregivers of young kids. “Since children get RSV in their first two years of life, they’re at a dependent stage of their lives, and parents are going to be in close contact,” Dr. Russo says.So, yes, adults can get RSV from children who have the virus, and vice versa; it can be transmitted back and forth from anyone who is infected with it. RSV is typically spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes around others, per the CDC. You can also contract the virus by touching or kissing the face of a child (or anyone else) who has it. RSV can also live on surfaces, like doorknobs, so you can also become infected with it by touching a contaminated surface and then touching your eyes, mouth, or nose with unwashed hands.Again, most generally healthy adults won’t get severely ill from RSV—but they can still spread the virus to other people who may face a higher risk. “Whether it’s flu, RSV, or COVID, the high-risk groups are quite the same,” William Schaffner, MD, professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, tells SELF. In addition to infants and young children, adults who are 65 or older, have chronic heart or lung disease, or have a weakened immune system are more likely to develop severe RSV symptoms or complications.Are RSV symptoms different in adults compared to kids?The most common RSV symptoms—which include fever, runny nose, coughing, sneezing, wheezing, fatigue, and decreased appetite—tend to overlap in children and adults, Dr. Schaffner says. Symptoms usually show up four to six days after the initial infection, per the CDC. (Infants can experience a unique set of symptoms, though, including fussiness, irritability, loss of interest in activities, and changes in breathing patterns, per the Cleveland Clinic.)

How an ‘Immunity Gap’ May Be Fueling a Spike in Respiratory Illnesses

How an ‘Immunity Gap’ May Be Fueling a Spike in Respiratory Illnesses

This winter is shaping up to be a wild one: Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is surging in young children, the flu ramped up early in many parts of the country, and chances are you or someone you know has already suffered through an especially nasty cold, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).Many of the respiratory viruses that were in a bit of a lull over the past two years seem to be coming back in full force—and experts say we may have an “immunity gap” to blame for that.An immunity gap can develop when your immune system essentially gets a break from being exposed to a mix of common pathogens—bacteria, viruses, and other microorganisms that can cause illness—in your environment, Aimee Bernard, PhD, an assistant professor in the department of immunology and microbiology at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, tells SELF.When you’re out and about—say, going to school, work, the gym, or restaurants—you come in contact with all types of pathogens that generally help keep your immune system on high alert and ready to protect you from infectious diseases.But during the height of the pandemic, much of the country took critical public health precautions—like masking, social distancing, and working and studying remotely, among others—to help slow the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19. It makes sense, then, that our immune systems had less exposure to other infectious pathogens in recent years too, and therefore are slightly less prepared to take them on now, as they start to circulate widely.That’s one possible reason why many respiratory viruses are surging atypically right now, Dr. Bernard says. She likens an immunity gap to the “hygiene hypothesis,” which posits that overly-sterile environments (a.k.a., super clean) “fail to provide the necessary exposure to germs required to ‘educate’ the immune system so it can learn to launch its defense responses,” as the US Food and Drug Administration notes.What, specifically, all of this might mean for this year’s cold and flu season has yet to be seen, but Dr. Bernard believes it’s possible that the country is going to experience a stronger uptick in hospitalizations related to infectious diseases than usual. Some areas are already seeing this unfold: Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, for example, confirmed its pediatric unit is so overwhelmed with RSV and other respiratory illnesses, it’s considering working with the National Guard and FEMA to potentially set up a field tent to handle the swell of patients. (If you’re taking care of a young child, here’s more information about how RSV can affect kids.)Who will be most affected by immunity gaps is a bit less clear, mainly because immunity gaps in specific groups of people haven’t been closely studied, since there hasn’t been a global pandemic in recent history. Experts know that we develop an immune “memory” of sorts after being infected with influenza, for instance, which can help soften the blow of future infections—so many people are likely more vulnerable right now due to the historically quiet 2020 and 2021 flu seasons. According to Dr. Bernard, older people—whose immune systems already aren’t quite as robust—may be even more susceptible to these infections. It’s not entirely understood whether an immunity gap would impact other immunocompromised individuals, like those with underlying conditions, since their risk is already higher than people who are otherwise healthy.

Should You Get the Flu Shot While Sick? Experts Say It Depends

Should You Get the Flu Shot While Sick? Experts Say It Depends

If you feel a bit under the weather, trudging out to your local pharmacy and getting a flu shot is probably the last thing on your to-do list. After all, who wants to do anything (other than stay in bed and watch reality TV) once the sniffles set in—let alone get dressed, mask up, and leave the house?If you end up spending the week in bed because you feel wiped out, fair enough—but if you have to go out anyway (say, to stock up on tissues and cough syrup) is getting the flu shot while sick a bad idea? After all, infectious disease experts say getting vaccinated as soon as possible should be a priority, since it takes a bit of time—up to two weeks—for your body to build up flu-fighting antibodies.So…can you get the flu shot while sick?It really depends on how sick you’re feeling. First, some important context: Flu season ramped up a bit early in the US this year; the virus has already caused an estimated 880,000 illnesses, 6,900 hospitalizations, and 360 deaths, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Those numbers are, in fact, pretty wild: The country hasn’t seen this many flu-related hospitalizations this early in the season in more than a decade, and flu activity is already high in many states.In other words, you’re going to want to get your flu shot ASAP—and mild cold symptoms shouldn’t necessarily stop you if you can get your appointment booked. “It is generally thought to be fine to get most vaccines, including the flu shot, if you have mild symptoms of an illness and no fever,” Cory Fisher, DO, a family medicine doctor at Cleveland Clinic, tells SELF. Specifically, you shouldn’t let a sore throat, headache, mild cough, or a stuffy or runny nose stop you from proceeding with your vaccination, he adds.Other symptoms, however, should give you some pause—namely a fever, intense body aches, and heavy fatigue. Basically, if you’re feeling awful enough to not go to school or work, you should consider holding off on getting the flu vaccine until you’re feeling a bit better, Dr. Fisher says.It’s not that getting vaccinated while sick will hurt you (it won’t!), but it might be in your best interest to wait because symptoms like a fever signal that your body is already working pretty hard to fight whatever’s ailing you, per the Cleveland Clinic. And you want your immune system to be fully ready to respond to the vaccine when you do get it.Plus, the flu shot itself can potentially cause side effects, so if your symptoms start to worsen, your doctor may have a harder time figuring out whether a prior infection is to blame or if you’re having a reaction to the vaccine. (Of course, you should take your health history into account before you get any vaccine, especially while sick. Always check in with your doctor first if you have a chronic condition or allergies.)

How to Use Ventilation and Air Purifiers to Reduce Your COVID-19 Risk

How to Use Ventilation and Air Purifiers to Reduce Your COVID-19 Risk

We know at this point in the pandemic that COVID-19 is less likely to spread outdoors. But unless you live in a region of the US that has temperate weather year-round, patio happy hours and fire pit hangouts are not always viable options. Another COVID wave could be on the horizon, and the reality is that indoor socializing poses health risks—even in your home.Humans need social interaction, and that need doesn’t disappear when nasty weather comes knocking. If you find yourself home alone on rainy days or are worried about feeling isolated come winter, it’s worth remembering that improving air quality is an easy and oft-overlooked way to help lower your chances of spreading COVID—or any harmful airborne particles or contaminants—when gathering indoors, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).Ventilation has been a hot topic throughout the pandemic, and many experts agree we need to raise the standard for indoor air quality across the board—in our schools, offices, grocery stores, you name it. But even without the policy changes that would make a big difference in public spaces, there is a lot you can do to improve ventilation in your home.What is ventilation, and why does it matter?Ventilation is the process of introducing clean air to an indoor space, either by bringing in outdoor air or installing filtration systems to clean the air. And with how much time most people spend inside, air quality really matters. The EPA reports that Americans spend around 90% of their time indoors. “The indoor environment shapes our health,” Stephanie Taylor, MD, a physician with a master’s in architecture who founded Building4Health to address this very issue, tells SELF. Taylor has dedicated her career to understanding how indoor environments impact our well-being, and she works with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) to create guidelines on indoor air quality.The air in our homes and workplaces can have significant health implications: Indoor pollutants, including building materials, pet dander, mold and asbestos, and chemicals found in cleaning supplies, among others, can cause all sorts of issues. For example, common allergens like dust mites, roaches, and mold can lead to short-term irritation or full-blown asthma attacks in those who are susceptible. Meanwhile, some forms of bacteria build-up can set off respiratory diseases, while inhaling carcinogens like radon gas can potentially lead to certain cancers, according to the EPA. “You need to bring in more outdoor air to dilute those indoor pollutants,” Dr. Taylor says.Ventilation can “reduce exposure to contaminants that are already present in the indoor air,” William Bahnfleth, PhD, a professor of architectural engineering at Penn State University who chairs ASHRAE’s epidemic task force, tells SELF. This in turn reduces the risk of infection if harmful pathogens are lurking, he says.So, ventilation can aid in lowering your chances of contracting an airborne respiratory illness like COVID-19 if you’re sharing a space with a contagious person, and it can make you less likely to spread it if you don’t know you’re sick, especially when combined with other safety measures, like social distancing, masking, and frequent hand washing.What are my options for ventilation and filtering the air in my home?There are two basic ways to improve ventilation in your home: You can bring fresh outdoor air inside or you can clean the air that’s already indoors.

6 Flu Complications You Should Know About, According to Doctors.

6 Flu Complications You Should Know About, According to Doctors.

Dehydration is considered an emergency if you’re feeling really weak, dizzy, confused, or seeing a large amount of blood in your mucus or vomit. At that point, drinking enough fluids to make up the difference may be tough if not impossible, according to Dr. Smith, so the best solution is to go to the emergency room and receive IV fluids ASAP.5. Worsening of chronic conditionsOne of the ways your body fights pesky viruses is through inflammation, which, in short, is your immune system’s way of trying to protect you against infection or injury. When a bug, like the flu virus, makes its rude entrance into your system, certain immune cells activate to fend it off and minimize its spread, Dr. Gates explains. This inflammatory response is what fuels fever, chills, fatigue, and other signs of illness—you know, those core symptoms that most viral and bacterial infections have in common.While this immune response can be effective, it can potentially worsen chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and heart disease, Dr. Gates says. For example, the strain the flu puts on the heart can be life-threatening for people with cardiovascular disease. “Asthma causes the narrowing of the airways, and the flu can make breathing even harder” and even trigger asthma attacks, Dr. Gates says. As for diabetes, viral infections encourage the body to release higher levels of certain hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, which can counter your cells’ ability to use insulin and can ultimately lead to ketoacidosis, a dangerous complication in which high levels of acids called ketones build up in the blood.On the other hand, having a chronic condition can make recovering from the flu even tougher, adds Dr. Smith. If a person has a neuromuscular disorder that makes it difficult for them to cough, for example, their condition “would prevent them from being able to clear the viral mucus from the lungs,” he says.How it’s treated: This largely depends on the underlying condition, but generally if you have a chronic condition and notice flu symptoms coming on, it’s important to seek advice from a physician as soon as you can, according to Dr. Gates.6. Neurological IssuesIn rare but severe cases, the flu virus can trigger inflammation in the brain, known as encephalitis, which may affect your ability to be awake, think, concentrate, remember, and even control certain muscles, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. It may even lead to seizures. Unfortunately, sometimes these complications can lead to permanent brain damage and disability. (It’s a scary possibility, we know.)Neurological issues from the flu are rare, and children with underlying chronic neurological conditions (like epilepsy and cerebral palsy) tend to be the most vulnerable.How it’s treated: Physicians treat neurological issues based on the root cause, which could mean prescribing an antiviral to help with the flu. In the case of seizures, MDs may also suggest using anticonvulsants.Who’s the most susceptible to flu complications?While anyone can develop a flu complication, people who fall into the below categories generally face the highest risk:

‘Scrabble’ Variants May Spike COVID Infections: What You Should Know

‘Scrabble’ Variants May Spike COVID Infections: What You Should Know

By now, we all understand that COVID will continue to evolve frequently. It’s easy to brush off news of virus mutations, but being aware of potentially concerning variants is pretty important at this stage of the pandemic. (After all, the omicron variant caused so much mayhem, it spurred the development of an updated vaccine, aka the bivalent booster.)Now, public health experts are warning about a rise in several “scrabble” variants; they have collectively led to nearly one in three new COVID infections in the country, according to the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).That’s a pretty big deal since omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 dominated the US as recently as mid-September. Two variants in particular—BQ.1 and BQ.1.1—recently accounted for at least 11% of all COVID infections in the country, per the CDC.The issue with this collection of variants is that experts believe “they’re more immune-evasive,” Thomas Russo, MD, professor and chief of infectious disease at the University at Buffalo in New York, tells SELF. So, how concerned should you be? Here’s what you should know as we head into the thick of cold and flu season.What are the “scrabble” variants, exactly?The term “scrabble variants” isn’t official or anything. It seems to have been coined by Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, co-director of the Center for Vaccine Development at Texas Children’s Hospital, who recently told CNN that the names of the rising variants remind him of high-scoring letters in the game Scrabble—Q, X, and B.There’s a full list that you’ll be quizzed on later (kidding!). They include:BQ.1BQ.1.1BF.7BA.4.6BA.2.75BA.2.75.2In other parts of the world—particularly in Singapore—the XBB variant is also causing all sorts of trouble.Overall, these variants “are descendants of BA.2, BA.4, and BA.5, and have accumulated additional immune-evasive mutations,” Amesh A. Adalja, MD, infectious disease expert and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells SELF. That means any partial protection you may have—either from the COVID vaccine or a previous COVID infection—is thought to be less effective against these newer variants compared to recent omicron strains.BQ.1 and BQ.1.1, in particular, seem poised to circulate frequently in the coming months. Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, recently told CBS News that these variants are “troublesome” and have “qualities or characteristics that could evade some of the interventions we have.”One reason for that? They have “minor mutations in the spike protein” that differentiate them from each other and from what’s circulating now, William Schaffner, MD, infectious disease specialist and professor of medicine at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, tells SELF.What COVID symptoms do the “scrabble” variants cause?All data on these variants is “preliminary” because they’re so new, so it’s tough to say how the symptoms they cause may differ from previous strains, if they differ at all, Dr. Schaffner says. BA.4 and BA.5, for example, may have caused more back and neck pain, at least anecdotally, but symptoms still varied considerably, as SELF previously reported.

Here’s How Long Flu Shot Side Effects Last, If You Experience Them at All

Here’s How Long Flu Shot Side Effects Last, If You Experience Them at All

Friendly reminder: It’s time to get your annual flu vaccine if you haven’t already. Flu season is already ramping up, and experts are expecting an especially rough fall and winter, so getting your shot before the end of October is pretty darn important. There are plenty of precautions that can help protect you from the flu—washing your hands frequently and masking up, to name a couple—but the vaccine is a tool that should top your list.Like any vaccine, though, the flu shot does come with potential side effects—and this is usually a good thing. It’s a strong sign that your immune system is responding to the vaccine and building up those all-important, infection-fighting antibodies, as SELF previously reported.But how long do flu shot side effects last? Here’s what you should know so you can plan ahead, just in case you do end up feeling a bit crummy after your appointment.How long do flu shot side effects last for most people?First, it’s important to note that everyone reacts differently post-vaccine. Some people get the flu shot and feel totally fine, while others may feel a bit unwell. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the most common side effects that can occur include soreness, inflammation, or swelling in the arm or around the injection site; low-grade headache; fever; nausea; muscles aches; fatigue; and fainting (especially if needles tend to freak you out).“Most people get pain at the injection site and a sore arm,” John Sellick, DO, infectious disease expert and epidemiological researcher at the University at Buffalo/SUNY in New York, tells SELF. “It’s typical of what we see with most other vaccines.”Thankfully, these symptoms are usually mild and go away on their own. The duration “varies from person to person” but, in general, side effects from the flu vaccine “usually last about a day”—again, if you have them at all, infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells SELF. How to feel a bit better when side effects strikeAgain, any discomfort post-vaccine should be pretty short-lived, Dr. Adalja says. But if you’re not feeling great, there are a few things you can do to try to speed up your recovery time:Take OTC pain relievers. Acetaminophen is a good option for reducing fever and easing any soreness, Dr. Schaffner says.Move your affected arm. This can help promote blood flow to the area, which helps repair the muscle in your arm that’s (very slightly) torn from the injection, Dr. Schaffner says.Cool it down. Putting a cool, damp washcloth over your arm can help with any swelling and visible inflammation or reddening of the skin, Dr. Schaffner says.Drink plenty of fluids. Being hydrated won’t necessarily get rid of the side effects, but it enables your body to work more efficiently, Dr. Sellick says. Also, being dehydrated can make you feel even worse.Rest! If your body feels off and you’re just sluggish, take it easy, Dr. Schaffner says. Consider going to bed a bit earlier, or doing lighter stretching instead of an intense run, for example.When should you talk to a doctor about potential flu shot side effects?Some people may have an allergic reaction to a component in the flu vaccine, like egg protein, but this is fairly rare. If you do have an allergic reaction, it usually happens within a few minutes to a few hours after you get the shot, the CDC says, so you’ll know pretty quickly; those who are allergic can potentially experience trouble breathing, wheezing, hives, weakness, a rapid heartbeat, and/or dizziness. You should always let your health care provider or pharmacist know in advance if you have a history of allergies or severe reactions to any vaccines, so you can talk through your options with that in mind.And, you probably already know this, but it never hurts to mention it again: The flu shot does not actually give you the flu—even if it kinda feels like it for a day. “It’s absolutely medically impossible to get the flu from the flu vaccine,” Dr. Schaffner stresses.If you suddenly start experiencing respiratory symptoms after you get your vaccine—like coughing, sneezing, or a sore throat—Dr. Sellick says that’s a sign you probably caught something before your appointment. It’s totally possible to come down with a cold, the flu, or even COVID before you get vaccinated, and then coincidentally develop symptoms of that illness shortly after you get your jab.“Some people may get their flu shot on Monday and start to have a runny nose or sore throat on Tuesday,” Dr. Schaffner explains. That usually “means you picked up a virus from somewhere else.” Related:

Flu Season Is Ramping Up—and Some States Have Already Been Hit Hard

Flu Season Is Ramping Up—and Some States Have Already Been Hit Hard

Flu season is ramping up, folks. Cases are already “high” in certain parts of the US, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Southern regions are being hit the hardest right now, but influenza is gaining traction in most of the country.Current hotspots include Washington, DC; New York City; Texas; Alabama; Tennessee; and South Carolina. William Schaffner, MD, professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, tells SELF that it’s not entirely clear why flu cases initially took off in southern regions this year. “The flu season is fickle,” he says. “It’s not predictable where it will start.”Cases in Washington, DC, and New York City may be more easily explained, since those are places people travel to and from often, Thomas Russo, MD, an infectious disease expert at the University of Buffalo Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, tells SELF.But the important thing to note regardless of where you live, Dr. Schaffner says, is that flu season is here, and it’s not going to stay contained, he explains: “It will get around in due course, and it’s starting very energetically.”Understandably, we’ve all been pretty preoccupied with COVID-19—but the flu still poses a very real threat, especially when it’s circulating at the same time as COVID. According to data from 2010 to 2020, influenza causes anywhere between 9 million and 41 million illnesses in the US each year, per the CDC, depending on how rough the season is. Additionally, hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized and tens of thousands die from the virus annually. For high-risk individuals, like children, older folks, pregnant people, and those with certain underlying conditions, the flu can also cause complications that can land a person in the hospital, like pneumonia, severe dehydration, or even neurological issues.The past two flu seasons have been surprisingly mild, largely because more people were masking up, social distancing, and practicing good hand hygiene, thanks to COVID-19, Dr. Russo says. But, given that mask guidelines are basically nonexistent in most parts of the country, that may not be how things shake out this year.Optimists may find themselves thinking, Does the early start mean flu season will end sooner this year? Unfortunately, that’s not how infectious diseases work, Dr. Schaffner says. Instead, this early data only fuels experts’ recent warnings: We may be in for a particularly rough winter. “[These early cases] make it more likely that it could be a more serious flu season and that it could be more prolonged,” Dr. Schaffner says. He adds that this pattern mimics what happened this year in Australia, where the flu season just ended: “We’re starting to see influenza early just as our colleagues in the southern hemisphere saw,” Dr. Schaffner says.So, consider this your reminder to schedule your flu shot—which experts recommend you get before the end of October—if you haven’t already. Remember, getting your flu vaccine isn’t just about protecting your health; it’s also a way to protect everyone in your community. Again, some people are more likely to develop severe disease from influenza, so getting vaccinated helps you protect loved ones, like baby cousins and grandparents—as well as your colleagues and essential workers in your community who may face a higher risk of getting really sick.It’s also especially crucial to just be aware of any flu-like symptoms you’re experiencing, which can include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue, per the CDC. Sometimes, antivirals can help treat people with influenza, but early diagnosis is key here, Dr. Schaffner says. With this in mind, you should see a doctor if you start feeling really sick—especially if you take a rapid test at home and rule out COVID-19, he explains.Lastly—and we can’t stress this one enough—consider masking up before you head into public spaces. “We’ve learned very definitively during COVID that wearing masks really does protect the most vulnerable people,” Dr. Shaffner says. “Plan to do that when flu strikes your community,” he adds. “It will help.”Related:

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