It may be hard to believe, but summer is nearly over. As the northern hemisphere begins tilting away from the sun, shifting toward shorter days and cooler autumn weather, it’s a good time to remind you that the next flu season is right around the corner.
At American River Urgent Care in Orangevale, California, our seasoned team of contagious illness and vaccination specialists offers a full scope of seasonal influenza services, ranging from annual preventive flu shots to on-site diagnostic testing and antiviral treatments.
Here, our influenza experts answer nine frequently asked questions we get about flu season.
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. It circulates all year long, becoming more widespread during the cold-weather months. Two main types of influenza (A and B) are seasonal, meaning they spread routinely, come back strongly in the fall and winter, and most people are exposed to them throughout life.
Pandemic flu viruses, by comparison, rarely circulate (three times in the last century) and tend to cause more widespread serious illness and a higher number of deaths.
In the United States, seasonal flu viruses circulate most during the fall and winter. While the timing and duration of each flu season varies, activity typically accelerates in October, reaches peak levels between December and February, and gradually declines through May.
Although a flu infection can make anyone very ill, certain people have a higher risk of serious illness, health complications, hospitalization, and death. Flu infection is riskier:
People with certain chronic health conditions — including diabetes, obesity, heart disease, kidney disease, asthma, and cancer — also carry a higher risk of serious illness from the flu.
Getting an annual flu shot can protect you from becoming infected with the seasonal flu. The influenza vaccine prevents millions of flu infections and associated medical visits every year in the U.S. It also prevents thousands of flu-related hospitalizations and deaths.
On top of protecting your personal health, being immunized against the flu helps break the chain of transmission to reduce community spread. When more people are vaccinated against the seasonal flu, high-risk individuals like newborns and cancer patients are more protected, too.
The flu vaccine does not infect you with the flu. Vaccines delivered via injection (flu shots) are either made with a small amount of dead (inactivated) flu virus that can’t replicate, or they’re made with specific viral protein strands that can’t infect you. Nasal spray vaccines are made with live flu viruses, but they’re weakened (attenuated) and can’t effectively replicate.
If you develop mild, temporary flu-like symptoms soon after your flu vaccine, it’s just part of your body’s initial immune system response as it builds better defenses against the flu.
You can get your flu shot and a COVID-19 vaccine at the same time. This includes COVID vaccinations from the initial two-shot series and subsequent recommended booster shots.
Two main factors determine how effective a seasonal flu shot is at preventing infection and illness. Protection varies based on your age, health status, and immune system response to the vaccine; it also varies depending on how well the vaccine “matches” circulating flu viruses.
Every year, researchers project which flu viruses will be circulating in the coming season, and tailor the seasonal vaccines to their projections. When vaccines are well-matched to the circulating viruses, they offer substantial protection against infection, illness, complications, hospitalization, and death.
Even if you do become infected with the flu after you’ve been vaccinated against it, you’re more likely to experience a milder, shorter illness as a result.
Influenza symptoms — many of which are similar to COVID-19 symptoms or even a bad cold — often come on suddenly. These include:
A cold is different from the flu in that it comes on more gradually and rarely causes a fever, a headache, or the chills. COVID-19 is different from the flu in that its symptoms take longer to emerge following infection.
If you test positive for the flu at our walk-in clinic, we can prescribe an antiviral drug treatment to help reduce the severity and duration of your symptoms. If your complication risk is high, antiviral flu medication helps protect against serious illness, hospitalization, and death.
Whether you’re due for a flu shot or in need of flu testing and treatment, we can help. Stop by our walk-in clinic during normal business hours, or call 916-287-8569 or click online to make an appointment at American River Urgent Care any time.