Colds and the flu are both respiratory illnesses caused by viruses. Many of the symptoms are the same—cough, sore throat, fatigue, stuffy/runny nose, fever, headaches and body aches. Flu symptoms tend to be more severe and come on more suddenly than those associated with the common cold. But not always. In fact, cold and flu symptoms can be so similar that it is often difficult to tell a cold from the flu based on symptoms.
A critical difference, though, is that influenza is more likely than the common cold to lead to serious and life-threatening complications, including pneumonia, bacterial infections, bronchitis and worsening of chronic conditions such as asthma.
That’s why it’s important to get a flu shot. (We have an ample supply at Doctors Express of Timonium.) If you protect yourself against the flu, those sniffles are much more likely to result from the common cold—a far less dangerous ailment than the flu.
Here are answers to some common questions about the flu shot:
Question: When should I get the flu shot?
Answer: Now. Flu season can begin as early as October and go as late as May. Right now there is very little flu activity, so it’s the perfect time to get your shot. Antibodies take about two weeks to build up in the body after getting the shot, so it’s best to get it early in the season before cases pick up.
Question: Do I need a flu shot every year?
Answer: Yes. The effects wear off from season to season. Also, each year, researchers determine which strains to include in the vaccine based on predictions about the upcoming season. This year, two of the three strains in the vaccine differ from those in last year’s shot.
Question: Can I get the flu from the vaccine?
Answer: No. The viruses in the vaccine are killed, so they are effective in helping the body build antibodies but do not have the strength to actually give you the flu.
Question: I never get sick. Do I still need a flu shot?
Answer: Yes. Even healthy people can get the flu. It might not turn into a life-threatening illness for you, but once you have it, you can easily spread it to others—others who have weakened immune systems or are elderly. The flu spreads person to person, mainly through coughs and sneezes. You can even be infected (and contagious) without any symptoms. Flu deaths in the United States range from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people each year.
So protect yourself and the people around you by getting your flu shot.