Influenza (flu) is a highly contagious disease that causes 3,000 to 50,000 deaths a year, plus 100,000 to 500,000 hospitalizations annually due to complications of flu.
Flu is largely preventable by getting a flu shot every year. However, only about half of Americans get a flu shot annually. Many people cling to myths about flu and flu shots to avoid the shot.
Take this quiz to find out how much you know about this potentially deadly illness.
- Who needs a flu shot?
A. People with chronic illnesses
B. Pregnant women and those who are breastfeeding
C. Everyone older than six months
D. All of the above
D is correct because a flu shot is important and safe for everyone over six months of age. Anyone can get flu, even perfectly healthy people with strong immune systems. Healthy people need a shot because it can prevent them from spreading flu to others. That’s why about 90 percent of doctors and nurses get an annual flu shot. Flu shots are especially important for those with chronic illness because they are more at risk for complications. Flu shots are also safe for pregnant or nursing mothers.
It’s best to get a flu shot before the end of October, the start of flu season. Before getting a flu shot, tell your doctor if you have an egg allergy or allergy to any other ingredients in the shot, or you have Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Two, egg-free flu vaccines are available and safe for people with egg allergy. If you have a moderate-to-severe illness, it is best to delay a flu shot until you have fully recovered.
- A flu shot will last several years. True or false?
False – everyone needs a flu shot every year. Flu viruses change or mutate frequently. Each year’s shot targets several viruses that are most likely to be in circulation for that flu season. A flu shot provides good protection for about six months. Many studies have shown that a flu shot reducesflu illness, complications, doctor visits, hospitalizations and missed work due to illness.
- How long does it take for the shot to be effective?
B. About two weeks
C. One month
B – It takes about two weeks after the shot for your body’s immune system to protect you against flu. However, if you were exposed to flu prior to getting your shot, you were going to get sick anyway – with or without the shot. You just waited too long. Don’t make that mistake next year.
Only the injectable vaccines are recommended. The nasal spray was found to be much less effective last year. Remember, flu shots cannot cause flu because they are made from inactive viruses that cannot cause illness. Some people may feel tenderness at the shot site that lasts a day or two.
- Flu is more than just a bad cold. True or false?
True – While both the common cold and flu are respiratory illnesses, different viruses cause them. Flu symptoms are much worse, strike suddenly and may include fever/chills, muscle or body aches, headache, sore throat, cough, and extreme tiredness. Children with flu are more likely than adults to have vomiting or diarrhea.
Flu can cause serious complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus, ear or lung infections. If you have heart or lung problems, flu can make them worse. Other serious complications triggered by flu include inflammation of the heart, muscles or brain; multi-organ failure; and blood infection (sepsis or bacteremia). Flu complications can also make chronic conditions worse, such as asthma or congestive heart failure.
The symptoms of a common cold are much milder and more likely to cause a runny or stuffy nose. A cold rarely causes serious complications and you will recover in less than a week.
- Children have a higher rate of flu infection than adults. True or false?
True – Flu complications in children include viral or bacterial pneumonia, bacteremia, ear infections, breathing complications, seizures, swelling of the brain, prolonged hospitalization and death. If your child gets the flu, he or she will miss school, feel terrible for up to two weeks and could develop life-threatening complications requiring hospitalization. More than 90 percent of children treated for flu in intensive care units last year had not received a flu shot. About half of children who died from flu and its complications were perfectly healthy before getting flu. Unvaccinated children between six months and eight years of age should have two initial doses of vaccine to build immunity.
- What’s the best treatment for flu? A. Antibiotics B. Fluids only, avoid solid foods C. Stay home so you don’t infect others, rest and drink a lot of fluids . D. Antiviral medicine
Antibiotics are useless against a viral disease like flu. Antibiotics only help kill bacteria. However, if flu develops into a bacterial infection such as bacterial pneumonia, then your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
It’s important to drink lots of fluids, and hot liquids such as herbal tea or chicken soup can soothe a sore throat. However, also try to eat healthy solid foods if you have an appetite. Good nutrition will help you heal faster.
C is correct. Stay home until your fever is gone to keep from infecting others.
D is also correct. Antiviral medicines can shorten the time you have symptoms by one to two days. Your doctor may prescribe them if you are in a high-risk group or very sick. Some research says antivirals can prevent serious flu complications. The sooner you start taking them, the better they will work. Ideally, start antiviral medicine within two days of the first symptoms. All three antiviral meds require a prescription.
- You can get a free flu shot. True or false?
- True – Most private or employer-sponsored health insurance offers free flu shots as part of preventive benefits, including the Arkansas Works program.
- People on Medicare can get a free shot if their provider accepts Medicare as payment in full.
- People on Medicaid do not have to pay for a flu shot.
- Children covered by ARKids First get free flu shots.
- The Arkansas Department of Health’s (ADH) county health units offer free shots as well as mass flu clinics that are open to everyone. Be sure to bring your insurance card and photo identification. If you don’t have insurance, the shot is still free. The ADH regularly updates their list of free flu clinics at this website.
- Flu shots are widely available at your doctor’s office, clinics, pharmacies and some work places.
- An antiviral medicine is effective even if you’ve had the flu for a week. True or false?
It depends on the patient. Antivirals are most effective if taken immediately (within 24-48 hours) after illness begins. However, in patients with severe, complicated or illness that is getting worse, antiviral treatment can still be beneficial after 48 hours in reducing serious flu complications. The CDC recommends that all hospitalized, severely ill and high-risk patients with suspected flu be treated with antivirals. These patients should be started on antiviral treatment regardless of their vaccination status and without waiting for lab tests. In high-risk patients, an antiviral medication can mean the difference between having a milder illness or a very serious illness requiring hospitalization.
Evidence from previous flu seasons suggests that antiviral medications are severely underused. One recent study reported that only 19 percent of high-risk outpatients who would benefit the most from and who should have received flu antivirals actually received a prescription. Antivirals are prescribed for children even less often than for adults.
There are several reasons for this lack of use. Few people get to their doctor within 24 hours of falling ill. Studies show that doctors do not prescribe antiviral drugs often enough for patients at high risk for complications. Instead, doctors are more likely to prescribe antibiotics, which have no effect against a flu virus.
Side effects from antiviral medications are rare, but may include nausea, dizziness, runny nose and cough, diarrhea, headache and some behavioral changes.
The three FDA-approved flu antiviral drugs recommended by the CDC include:
- Tamiflu (oseltamivir) is available as a pill or liquid. It is the preferred treatment for pregnant women. Children with flu can take Tamiflu if 2 weeks of age or older, and to prevent flu if 3 months of age or older.
- Relenza (zanamivir), available as an inhaled powder, should not be used by people with breathing problems such as COPD or asthma. (Tamiflu and Relenza are usually prescribed for five days; hospital patients may need it longer.) Relenza can treat flu in children age 7 or older and prevent flu in children age 5 or older.
- Rapivab (peramivir) is administered intravenously for 15-30 minutes by a health care professional and recommended only for those 18 years or older.
How did you do on the quiz? If you got six or more answers correct, congratulations! You obviously know how important it is to get a flu shot every year to protect you and your family’s health.