Did you forget about the flu? It’s true — last year, we saw much fewer flu cases than usual, and especially during the pandemic, this was an inarguably good thing.
However, what does the drop in flu cases last year mean for this year?
According to Samuel J. Stelmach, a physician at Iredell Internal Medicine, the low number of flu cases last year is largely due to social distancing and mask-wearing.
“Because of this, it is possible that there will be reduced population immunity. Our immune system is slowly forgetting how to fight the virus as we are being less exposed to it,” he said.
This reduced population immunity could cause us to see an increase of flu cases this season, making it imperative to get your flu shot.
Understanding the Flu
Flu, short for influenza, is caused by a virus that infects the respiratory system.
According to Stelmach, symptoms of the flu may include a fever, cough, shortness of breath, body aches, sore throat, and headaches.
If you are experiencing flu symptoms, Stelmach recommends staying home and staying hydrated. You can also take medicines that provide symptomatic relief, like acetaminophen.
Most individuals recover on their own within a few days. However, if your symptoms show no improvement after several days, make sure to seek medical attention. Dehydration can often result from flu symptoms, so you may need IV fluids to help you feel better.
While the flu may not be the sickness you’re most concerned about right now — and understandably so — it does not mean that the flu cannot cause serious complications.
After all, you can actually be infected with both the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. Though they are both respiratory illnesses, different viruses cause them.
“Before moving to Iredell, I saw several patients at the hospital I was at have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time,” said Stelmach.
In addition to the possibility of double infection, the flu can cause the worsening of other chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease.
The flu can also lead to more serious symptoms like pneumonia, respiratory failure, and sepsis. This sickness can send people to the hospital, and in some cases, it can be deadly.
Fortunately, there is an easy way to prevent severe complications from the flu — get your flu shot.
Flu Shot 101: Facts, Myths, and Misconceptions
Though flu vaccine effectiveness varies from year to year depending on the virus strand, flu shots prevent millions of influenza-related illnesses. They reduce the overall number of medical visits, hospitalizations, and deaths each flu season.
“It’s proven that the flu vaccine is an effective means of controlling the infection and decreases your chance of getting very sick,” said Stelmach.
“Scientists have been doing studies on flu vaccines for decades now, so there’s no reason for us to fight the data,” he added.
Though pregnant women, young children, adults over 65, and people with chronic medical conditions are most susceptible to the flu, you should still receive your vaccine, even if you are not at high risk for flu complications. Even healthy adults can still experience serious flu infections.
According to the United States Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, individuals six months of age and older can receive their flu vaccine.
There is a common misconception that the flu vaccine will give you the flu. But, according to Stelmach, when you receive your flu shot, you are being given an inactive, or dead, version of the virus that cannot make you sick.
“It is possible to be exposed to influenza shortly before getting vaccinated or during the two-week period after vaccination because the body has not yet developed immune protection from the vaccine. But, the flu shot itself is not causing the infection,” he said.
You will not get the flu from a flu shot, but you may experience some side effects such as:
- Soreness where you received the shot
- Low-grade fever
- Sore muscles
Any side effects will probably be mild and generally pass on their own within a few days.
Receiving your flu vaccine is especially important this year during COVID. It can keep you out of the hospital when hospitals are overwhelmed with COVID patients.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Stelmach, you can actually receive your flu shot and COVID-19 vaccine at the same time.
“If you can reduce your risk of influenza infection, do it. Get your flu vaccine,” said Stelmach.
Samuel J. Stelmach is a new physician at Iredell Internal Medicine, located at 757 Bryant Street in Statesville. He is board-certified in internal medicine and believes in a preventive approach to medical care. If you would like to schedule an appointment with Dr. Stelmach, please call 704-873-5658. New patients are welcome.