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Don’t Discredit the Flu

by Ruby Laine


Flu season is upon us yet again and in record numbers this year. The last week of November marked the most cases of influenza reported in a single week since the late 1990’s. There are plenty of common misconceptions about the flu, like comparing it to the common cold and disregarding the severity of it, or around the vaccine debate and how vaccines work to protect you.


Why is the Flu Not Just a Cold?

Influenza, or the flu, is an infection of the respiratory system that is spread through the air or by touching something contaminated whether that be a person or an object. It causes symptoms like fever, runny/stuffy nose, tiredness, shortness of breath, chills, and a cough. A lot of these symptoms look similar to the common cold, but colds are much milder and tend to creep up on you. The flu, however, is more intense, symptoms are abrupt, and they persist for much longer than a cold. The flu can also be deadly: in the 2017-2018 season the US saw a total of 52,000 flu-related deaths. It is important to not treat the flu like a cold, because while the majority of healthy people will not see any lasting affects others who have added risk factors could.


Who Should be Extra Careful?

Risk factors don’t mean you will have complications, but you are at a higher likelihood the more risk factors you have. Some possible risk factors for the flu are:

  • Age: Under the age of 2 and over the age of 65

  • Obesity: BMI over 40

  • Weakened immune system or any underlying chronic diseases

  • Pregnancy: this includes right after the birth

  • People living in care facilities

  • American Indians and Alaskan Natives (flu complications and pneumonia are one of the leading causes of death for these communities) 


Why is the Vaccine Beneficial?

There are many common misconceptions about the flu vaccine, some being that the vaccine gives you the flu, or that there are many possible side effects, or that it is not beneficial to get a flu vaccine every year. In reality, the vaccine is an inactive version of the virus that can be used to teach your body how to fight the specific version and is incapable of giving someone the flu because it is weakened. As for side effects the flu vaccine is one of the safest vaccines on the market and any possible side effects are mild and most commonly are tiredness and soreness around the injection site. Lastly, just because you are healthy doesn’t mean you can’t be affected by the flu and experience complications. There are plenty of different flu variants that are spread each year so it is best to get a vaccine every year to protect yourself and others. The CDC recommends that every individual above the age of 6 months get the vaccine and that includes pregnant women.


What Should You Do to Best Protect You and Your Loved Ones?

We all want to enjoy the season and spend time with our loved ones but this season we have to be extra careful with covid, the respiratory syncytial virus, and of course the flu. It is suggested the best time to get the flu vaccine is in October-November to give your body time before it could be infected but there is never a bad time so if you haven’t already, you can still do so. Other tips on how to best stay safe include frequent hand washing for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water, avoiding touching your face, keeping a clean environment, staying away from people who are sick, and lastly, if you feel sick stay inside and contact your healthcare provider.

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Ruby Laine (she/her) is a current undergraduate student at The George Washington University pursuing a Bachelor's of Science in Public Health. She is passionate about improving health outcomes for underserved communities, families, and children. She wishes to assist in expanding access to healthcare and promote healthy lifesyle behaviors. She has previously worked with the NYC City Council in District 2 under Carlina Rivera while being an advocate for constituents and the community. As a member of the editorial team of Today’s Patient as a Senior Contributor, Ruby focuses on reaching out to wider audiences, to spread awareness for health concerns and improve health literacy.

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