Flu Season 2018: 5 Questions about the Vaccine

Flu Season 2018

It’s that time of year again… the start of flu season.

Fevers, body aches, runny nose cough and feeling “run down” are just some of the side effects of this extremely contagious virus. At BetterMed, we want you to stay healthy during this vulnerable time.

“Getting a flu shot can significantly lower your risk of getting the flu and its related complications. Some of the complications include sinus and ear infections, pneumonia, inflammation of the heart, brain and muscles, and even death,” said Greg Symenow, Physician Assistant and Lead Advanced Practice Provider for BetterMed.

Those who are younger than 6 months old or severely allergic to any component of the flu vaccine should not get it. Individuals with severe egg allergies should talk to their doctor because there are options available. But Symenow highly recommends that everyone else get the vaccine. “It provides the best possible protection against the flu,” he said.

“Our flu shot program fits perfectly with our goal to provide better patient experiences while providing value to the communities we serve,” said Mark Johnson, CEO of BetterMed Urgent Care.

Since there’s a lot of misinformation about the vaccine, we asked Greg to help clear up some of the confusion in a brief Q and A:

When do you recommend that people get their flu shots?

We recommend that people get their flu shots by the last week of October—or earlier, if they begin to hear about others getting the flu. The flu season changes every year, but typically starts gradually in October and can run through May. The peak months are December, January and February.

What people are especially vulnerable to getting the flu and should be a high priority?

Everyone is susceptible to the flu. There are certain groups of people who can have severe complications to the flu and should be a high priority in getting it: 1) Children ages 6 months through 4 years, especially ages 2 and under. 2) People over age 50, and those with co-existing medical problems such as heart problems, lung problems, diabetes or a poor immune system. Their caregivers and household contacts should also get the shot. 3) Pregnant women.

What concerns or myths do you hear about the flu shot?

One of the major myths surrounding the flu shot is that it will give you the flu. This just doesn’t happen. The flu shot is an inactivated form of the virus, and when you get the shot your body will build up antibodies against that shot.

It takes about two weeks for the flu shot to start to work. Most people who had a flu shot and still get the flu either contracted it during that two-week window or were part of the very small group for whom the shot does not work as effectively. The flu vaccine protects you against 3 or 4 different viruses, so even if you get one strain of the flu virus, it is helping to protect you from others.

Are there any side effects?

Most people will get a flu shot without any problems at all. However, all vaccines come with the potential side effects—most are mild, such as fever, cough, fatigue, headache, tenderness and erythema (redness) at the injection site. One rare side effect is Guillain-Barre syndrome, a severe neurological complication. Yet it’s more likely to get a severe complication and even death from the flu itself.

How can people help prevent from getting the flu and what should they do if they do happen to get it?
Getting the flu shot, washing your hands on a regular basis and coughing into your elbow are the best ways to prevent yourself and others from getting the flu.

Should you get the flu, if you catch it early enough, there are antiviral medications—which we can prescribe at BetterMed—that may help shorten the duration of the illness. You should also stay away from other people as much as possible. The flu is contagious 1 day before symptoms start and up to 7 days after you start noticing its symptoms.

Editor’s Note: Prevention is key, so be sure to visit BetterMed during October for your free flu shot. Should you ever need medical attention, our highly trained providers are available 7 days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Even during our busier flu season, there’s rarely a wait. Most patients are in and out the door in less than an hour. You can register for an appointment online, or just stop by one of our six convenient locations.

Greg Symenow has been a Physician Assistant with BetterMed for 2 1/2 years. Before joining the practice full-time, he had over 5 years of emergency room experience. He attended the University of Richmond for his undergraduate degree and then received his Master’s in Physician Assistant Studies at JMU. Prior to that, he was a career firefighter and paramedic in Northern Virginia. He works clinically at our Mechanicsville location and is also the Lead Advanced Practice Provider for the metro Richmond BetterMed locations.