Getting your flu shot early is best way to stay well

As the fall season settles in, so does the flu season.

The myriad of advertisements and signs for the flu shot should not be ignored. The influenza virus is a contagious respiratory illness that can lead to a range of symptoms. For many, the flu is about a week of cough, congestion, muscle pains, and fevers. For others, especially the elderly and young children, the flu can mean severe symptoms that lead to hospitalization and even death.

The flu virus spreads quickly and efficiently. The virus spreads through small droplets in the air that are created when infected people cough, sneeze, or even talk. You may not even realize you are spreading the virus because the virus can be replicating a day before you feel sick and continue up to seven days after feeling sick.

The greatest treatment has always been prevention. Steps to avoid the virus, such as limiting contact with sick people, covering your coughs and sneezes, and hand washing are essential.

Vaccinations are another important way to prevent infection. The flu virus comes in various strains that mutate and change every year, and every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tries to determine which strains will likely emerge. This leads to new vaccines every year.

By getting annual vaccinations, you increase your chances of not getting sick. Vaccines can take two weeks to become effective, so getting the shot early is best.

The vaccines are especially important for people who have a weakened immune system. This includes people who are old or very young, and those with diabetes, COPD, asthma, AIDS, cancer and sickle cell anemia.

Based on your condition, special vaccinations may be required. In cases of pregnancy, egg allergies and immunocompromised health, a discussion with a health care provider would help determine the safest way to get your vaccination.

If you notice symptoms or think you may have been exposed, there also are antiviral medications that can help slow or prevent the viral infection. As these medications work best when treatment is started early, it is important to let your health care provider know about your symptoms right away.