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Each year, seasonal flu infections cause a variety of symptoms that start suddenly. The flu typically makes you feel rotten for three to five days. However, it can be highly dangerous for young children, older adults, and others with certain health conditions. To protect yourself and your community, you need a flu shot every year.
Here are five things to know about this year's flu season and vaccine.
1. Big differences from last year
Last year, we saw very little influenza in Utah and across the nation. Many of our traditional respiratory viruses seemed absent. This is arguably due to more people receiving the flu vaccine, as well as the social distancing, masking, and other community efforts to prevent spread of COVID.
"Unfortunately, we don't seem to be quite as vigilantly this year," said Tamara Sheffield, MD, Intermountain Healthcare medical director for preventive medicine. "We are already seeing an unusual surge in RSV, a virus that causes respiratory failure in infants and is spread like influenza."
2. Impact of COVID patients on healthcare resources
Sheffield said many of the resources used in hospitals to care for patients with COVID could be overwhelmed if influenza cases start to fill those beds as well. As hospital capacity is already stretched, Intermountain strongly encourages everyone to receive both the influenza and COVID vaccines.
"We are again facing a flu season while another serious respiratory virus that has very similar symptoms is circulating, namely COVID-19. If a person shows symptoms like fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, muscle or body aches or headache, they are going to need to be tested for both COVID and influenza," Sheffield said.
Seasonal flu symptoms usually come on fast, causing chills, fever, muscle aches, tiredness, dry cough, and sore throat. Occasionally, seasonal flu will cause a runny or stuffy nose or, in young children, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
3. Understand how influenza is spread
The flu virus prefers air travel, catching rides on the tiny droplets that fly out when someone sneezes, coughs, sings, or talks. However, it can also stick around on surfaces for several hours. If you touch something that was recently contaminated and then touch your mouth or nose, you can get infected. It is important to note you can spread the virus before you show signs of illness.
4. Find out which influenza vaccine method is best for you
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises everyone ages 6 months and older to receive an annual flu vaccination.
There are several options this year when it comes to your flu vaccine. There is the "shot" which is the Quadrivalent regular injectable dose, or for people age 65 years and over, the high dose quadrivalent or adjuvanted vaccine. People ages 2 through 49 years also have the option of the Intranasal or nasal spray vaccine.
The best way to find the vaccine that is right for you is to consult with your doctor or pharmacist.
"Get a seasonal flu vaccination," Sheffield advised. "Everyone in the family over the age of six months should get a vaccine, and so should anyone who is around a baby that is younger than six months."
5. Take steps to stop the spread of disease
The same prevention methods work for flu and COVID. Wearing a mask does work. Be sure it covers your nose and mouth snuggly.
- Wash your hands often and well, and have children do the same.
- If you're sick, stay home from school, work, or church.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick, if possible.
- Cover your sneezes and coughs.
- Use a tissue once, then throw it away and wash your hands.
For more information, visit intermountainhealthcare.org/flu.