Nadine Millwood remembers her miserable experience with the flu very well.
That’s why she gets a flu shot every year.
“If you get the flu shot, it makes it milder if you do get it,” Millwood said as braced for a shot in her arm.
She said she didn’t even feel it.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Advisory Council for Immunizations Practices recommends that everyone 6 months and older get the flu vaccine every year.
People older than 50 and children younger than 5 are especially encouraged to get the vaccine because they are more at risk for developing complications.
Pregnant women, people with chronic medical conditions, health care workers and those living in nursing homes are also at higher risk.
Dr. Philip Marler, doctor of internal medicine at The Longstreet Clinic in Gainesville, said he urges everyone to get the vaccine, particularly people older than 65 because they have the highest mortality rate with the virus.
“Influenza is not very pleasant to have. If you’ve ever had the flu you know what I’m talking about,” Marler said. “Even if you get well, a lot of people miss work. There is a distinct possibility they’ll pass it along to other people and prolong the epidemic. The flu shot is one way we have of containing influenza outbreaks.”
Flu season lasts from October to May but flu outbreaks can occur any time during the year. Flu season commonly peaks in January and February.
“Because the flu is unpredictable, we never know when flu season will start or how bad it will be,” Dave Palmer, public information officer for District 2 Public Health, said. “It is wise to go ahead and get vaccinated when the flu vaccine becomes available.”
It takes the body between two and six weeks to build up a full immunity to the virus, so doctors recommend getting the vaccine as early as possible.
Each year, the CDC predicts which strain will be most prevalent. This year’s vaccine guards against three strains. Another bonus to being vaccinated every year is that the body remembers the strains it has been exposed to in the past.
“It makes you even more resistant, over and above the current year’s flu shot,” Marler said.
Some people may put off getting the shot for fear of becoming sick because of the vaccine.
Marler said some people will get mild cold-like symptoms when they’re vaccinated, but he said he’s never been able to determine any direct link between those symptoms and the vaccine.
To be on the safe side, Marler said patients are given a questionnaire before getting the shot to be sure they aren’t among the few people who could have a poor reaction to the shot.
People who are allergic to eggs won’t be given the shot because the vaccines are grown in an egg culture, which could cause a bad reaction.
Marler said the symptoms of influenza are typically easy to diagnose over the phone and include cough, fever, chills, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, headache, fatigue, and some people may experience vomiting and diarrhea.
He said he prefers for his current patients to call in if they think they have the flu because it prevents infecting others and keeps patients as comfortable as possible.
There is a prescription medication, Tamiflu, that can hasten the resolution of the illness and in some cases prevent the illness in people who have been exposed.
“If someone comes in with the flu, there isn’t a lot we can do for them,” Marler said.