Protect yourself and your family from the flu.
Far from being just a cold on steroids, the flu is a virus that kills thousands of people a year in the United States. In fact, the greatest modern disease pandemic was caused by a flu that wiped out a third of the world’s population. While that event represents the worst-case scenario, it’s always smart to guard against catching this disease.
Q: I’m in good health. Why would I need a flu shot?
A: The flu can be mild or deadly, but you won’t know until you catch it. Getting a flu shot is the best way to protect yourself, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In general, children 6 months to 18 years should get flu shots, according to federal guidelines. You should also get a shot if you are older than age 50, pregnant or have a chronic condition such as diabetes or asthma. (Please keep in mind that pregnant women and children under the age of 3 should receive thimersol-free flu vaccine.) You should also get a shot if you work in healthcare or serve as a caregiver for children under the age of 6 months. Avoid vaccinations if you are severely allergic to eggs or chicken (the vaccine is made using eggs). Already sick with a fever? Wait until you recover before getting vaccinated.
Q: I’ve got the flu. Should I take antiviral drugs to get rid of it?
A: Antiviral drugs can shorten the duration of illness by a day or two and may also help prevent the spread of flu. In general, however, they mostly benefit people with conditions such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease who are at risk of serious complications, according to the CDC. If you fall into this category and catch the flu, you need to start the drugs within two days of becoming sick and take them for five days straight for them to be effective. On the flip side, antiviral drugs are not only for those who are already ill. They can also be a preventive measure for people with weak immune systems or those who can’t get vaccinated due to allergies.