National Influenza Vaccination Week: What are the signs of the flu and is it too late to get my flu shot?

By Dr. Marissa Gomez-Martinez, DHR Health Edinburg CISD School Based Health Center

What are the signs and symptoms of the flu? The symptoms of flu can be similar to a cold or other viral illness, such as COVID-19. Typical symptoms include sudden onset of fever, body aches, muscle aches/joint pain, cough, headache, runny nose, sore throat and malaise. Some individuals may experience vomiting and diarrhea, which is more common in children. Once exposed to influenza, it usually takes a couple of days for symptoms to develop and can range from 1-4 days for symptom onset. You can be contagious for 1 day before starting with symptoms and for up to 5-7 days after symptom onset. You are most contagious in the first 3-4 days of illness.

Symptoms of the flu range in severity from mild to severe and can result in death. Not everyone has fever with the flu, but sometimes the fever can be very high and hard to control. Cough is usually dry, but can be productive. It can be severe and can last for weeks after other symptoms of the flu resolve. Most people recover from their symptoms within a week, but flu can be severe in many cases, resulting in hospitalization. Those at high risk for complications from the flu include those with chronic lung conditions, heart disease, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, cancer, chronic kidney disease, adults 65 and older, young children, especially those under 2 years of age and pregnant women.

Is it too late to get my flu shot? No, it is not too late. Although hard to predict this season, peak flu season typically occurs in January through February. It takes two weeks for the flu vaccine to become effective and protective, so now is still a good time to get your flu vaccine. There are many different flu viruses and they change constantly. This is why you can still get infected with the flu even with vaccination. However, most people do not get as severe a course of flu if vaccinated. The flu vaccine can help prevent hospitalization from severe influenza, which is crucial during this pandemic. Getting a flu shot protects you and protects those around you as well. The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone age 6 months and older, without a contraindication, such as a severe allergy to a component of the vaccine. Young infants under 6 months of age cannot get the flu vaccine, so it is especially important during this pandemic that parents with young infants get the family vaccinated to protect those most vulnerable. As the cooler weather sets in, there tends to be more respiratory illnesses in the community. It is possible to have more than one infection at the same time. In other words, you can get flu and COVID-19 at the same time, which can lead to a much more serious course of illness. A flu vaccine can help prevent severe infections and hospitalizations. Please get vaccinated if you haven’t already done so.