10 Truths about the Flu

Sharon Nachman, MD
Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases
Stony Brook Children's Hospital

Flu season will be here very soon and, like the coronavirus, it’s a respiratory illness. With experts predicting that there may be a surge of coronavirus cases in the fall and winter, and since it is not known if getting COVID-19 along with the flu will result in a more severe illness, it’s even more important to ensure everyone aged six months or older who can receive a flu vaccine gets one. 

According to Sharon Nachman, MD, Director, Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, knowledge is one of the keys to illness prevention. Here’s her list of the top 10 flu truths she wants you to know.

1. Like Clockwork, the Flu Arrives Every Year
And every year it causes people to miss work and kids to miss school. It sends many to doctors and hospitals and, for the most vulnerable among us, it can even cause death. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that, during the 2019-2020 season, there were between 39 million to 56 million flu illnesses in the United States and up to 62,000 deaths. Among the children who got the flu, approximately 90% had not been vaccinated, all of whom could have been. Yet many people still avoid getting the vaccine for themselves and their children, putting their families and others at risk.

2. It’s Everywhere You Go
Supermarkets, schools, shopping malls. No matter where you go, someone near you has either just had the flu, has been exposed to the flu or has it right now. That’s why it’s especially important to wear a mask.

3. It’s Very Contagious
The flu virus is very effective at infecting people. If someone with the flu coughs or sneezes near you, you could pick it up through the air. You can also get it by touching your eyes, nose or mouth after contact with a doorknob, the buttons on an ATM machine or the handle of a supermarket cart that was touched or coughed on by an infected person.

4. It’s Coming Home from College
When students come home from college, where they live in close quarters with others, they tend to bring the flu with them.

5. It’s Especially Dangerous for Babies, the Elderly, and Those with Compromised Immune Systems
Newborns and infants under 6 months of age who are too young for the flu vaccine, older people for whom the vaccine isn’t as effective and people with compromised immune systems are especially at risk. While a normally healthy adult might get through a bout of the flu without too much distress, he or she could easily pass it on to a vulnerable person in their family, their workplace or on public transportation.

6. The Vaccine Can Prevent Hospitalizations and Death
While the vaccine may not prevent someone from getting the flu 100% of the time, it can lessen the severity of the illness, shorten its duration, and prevent hospitalizations and death.

7. You Can Get Vaccinated Even if you’ve Recently Had the Flu
Each year there are different influenza strains that the vaccine is formulated to address. So even if you had the flu this season, if you weren’t vaccinated, you should be because it could help to protect you from picking up another strain.

8. The Vaccine Doesn’t Give you the Flu
The injected flu vaccine doesn’t contain any live virus so you can’t get the flu from it. If you get an injection, you may have a mild reaction such as soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling in the spot where the vaccine was given, and might even feel a bit achy. Keep in mind however, there are many seasonal illnesses with symptoms that mimic flu symptoms, so at any time you could get another illness, even after being recently vaccinated, and just think you contracted the flu from the vaccine.

9. After-the-Fact Flu Treatments are Not Very Effective
For those who do get the flu, certain treatments such as antivirals may help lessen the length of the illness in some people by only a day. According to the CDC, they work best when administered within two days of getting sick. The best approach however is vaccination, which may help you to avoid the flu completely.

10. It’s Important to Get Vaccinated Early
Once you receive the flu vaccine it takes about two weeks for it to become effective. Since COVID-19 is expected to surge in the next few months medical experts are urging everyone to get a flu vaccination by mid to late fall.

Remember, protecting others and ourselves from the flu is an important responsibility. To make an appointment to have your child vaccinated at Stony Brook Children’s, call (631) 444-KIDS (5437). To find a flu vaccine clinic near you, contact your physician’s office or local pharmacy.