October often brings colder weather and with it the beginning of the annual flu season, which lasts until May and can wreak havoc on your body — even turning deadly in some instances.
On Sept. 10, the Riverside County Public Health Department reported the death of a 4-year-old child from Perris after being sick with the flu. Health officials also said the child had underlying health issues, and passed away at a medical facility.
The tragic death of a child from influenza is a reminder of the dangers of this virus that creeps into the population as summer gives way to fall and the heat gives way to cooler temperatures.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that there were between 37.4 million to 42.9 million flu cases in the 2018-2019 flu season that ran from October to May. There were also between 36,400 — 61,200 flu-related deaths.
The beginning of the flu season is the best time to get vaccinated because it takes about two weeks for the body to build up an immunity to take effect, notes Dr. Michael Hirt, internist at Family Practice Center for Integrated Medicine in Tarzana.
The CDC recommends all persons ages 6 months and older receive a flu vaccination each year, especially those afflicted by other health conditions, seniors or those with weakened immune systems.
While the vaccine is not always 100% effective in preventing you from getting the flu, it might lessen the impact if you get it.
The reason for this is that when it comes to the flu vaccine “it’s a guessing game,” Hirt said.
He explained that the influenza vaccine is based in response to the predominant flu strain observed in Asia in March. From there, scientists know it will make its way into Europe and the US East Coast.
But as it spreads across the globe, “it can mutate,” the doctor said.
So if the strain that arrives in the US later in that year turns out to be different, the vaccine might not be as effective.
“But it’s the best chance, even if it’s not always for the right strain,” Hirt said.
And yes, some people might get a “little sick” after getting the flu shot.
The influenza vaccine is made up of two main components: little bits of the flu virus — which cannot cause the flu but instead help the body develop the antibodies that attack the virus early — and different chemicals to stimulate the immune system.
“These chemicals can have a reaction,” Hirt said. “You might get headaches, soreness, low-grade fever.”
But not everyone gets these reactions.
This is also a good time to get the influenza vaccine because once you get the flu, then it’s too late.
Preventing the arrival or the worsening of the virus can also help avoid other ailments that often come with influenza.
“Once you get really sick with the flu, you can get low blood pressure, which leads to kidney failure. The flu virus can also get into your lungs and weaken the immune system,” Hirt said.
If the virus gets out of control inside the body, it can lead to multiple organ failure.
Cold vs. Flu
One thing people often confuse is a cold with the flu.
With a cold, “you can still go to work,” Hirt said. You typically have a runny nose, you’re sneezing, and you have a dry cough.
Influenza is something entirely different.
“You feel like you’ve been hit by a truck. Terrible body aches. High fever. You really feel horrible, worn down,” Hirt said.
If you get some of those symptoms — even the common cold — the doctor recommends you stay at home so you don’t pass the illness to other people.
“[Both can be] highly contagious,” Hirt said, pointing out that “if you sneeze in an elevator, a virus will stay in the air for 10-12 minutes.”
That means you can still become infected even if you’re not next to the person who sneezed.
“If you’re coughing and sneezing, stay home,” he emphasized.
Besides the flu vaccine, there are other ways to prevent the arrival of the virus.
“I never touch my face unless I just washed my hands,” said Hirt, “no matter how much I want to scratch my nose.”
And, “you should not be eating unless your hands are washed. And if you’re eating, don’t touch your phone,” which is “completely infected,” he added.
Something else that can help you stay healthy is reducing your sugar intake because sugar weakens the immune system.
Also get plenty of rest, stay hydrated, and take vitamin C which boosts your immune system.
But above all, try to get your flu shot.