Here comes flu season


Sharing accurate information can save lives—including yours

Influenza, commonly known as the “flu,” is an infection caused by a virus that attacks your respiratory system—your nose, throat and lungs. Symptoms may begin with a runny nose, dry cough, sneezing and/or a sore throat. Many may also develop a fever, headache, body aches, chills, or feel short of breath.

The majority of people with the flu recover without medical treatment; however, those with a chronic illness or compromised immunity may develop complications that include pneumonia, bronchitis, and even death. During the October 2019-May 2020 flu season, 4,146 Minnesotans were hospitalized with complications and 153 people died, including three children. 

Those with the highest risk from influenza include children under five, especially those under six months; adults older than 65 years of age; those with weakened immune systems such as people living with HIV; pregnant women; people who are very obese; and those with chronic illnesses such as asthma, diabetes, heart and liver disease, and kidney disease.

This list is very similar to those at highest risk from complications from an infection with COVID-19. It is very important to take active steps to protect yourself and others from both viral infections. One important step is getting a flu vaccination. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends annual flu vaccination for everyone age six months or older.

We all know people who are resistant to getting a flu shot. There are many excuses for not getting the vaccine such as “I never get the flu,” “I once got the flu from the vaccine,” or “I had the vaccine once and still got the flu.” This year if someone you know offers an excuse, please encourage him or her to protect themselves and others by sharing accurate information about the flu vaccine.

First, remind your friends and family that the flu vaccine not only reduces the risk of getting the flu by 60% but also lowers the risk of having serious complications or a hospitalization. Though the annual influenza vaccine is not 100% effective, it is still your best defense against the flu.

Second, the virus in a flu shot is inactive and does not cause the flu.
Third, soreness, redness, and/or swelling where the shot is given are common. Some also develop nausea, muscle aches, or low-grade fever as the body musters an immune response. This is a sign of your body getting ready to fight the virus, not infection.

Finally, vaccines save lives.

Now is the ideal time to get a flu shot

Flu vaccination is even more important this season because influenza and COVID-19 cause similar symptoms and place the same populations at high risk for severe illness and complications. Please get your vaccine and encourage others to do the same. In fact, consider positively influencing others by posting an image of yourself on social media getting your vaccine. 

As the flu season approaches, take these important steps to protect yourself and others from both viral infections:

  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds prior to eating, after touching commonly used surfaces, after toileting, and when visibly dirty.
  • Use hand sanitizer when unable to wash your hands.
  • Avoid touching your nose and face.
  • Wear a facemask at all times when indoors, and outdoors when it is not possible to socially distance.
  • Avoid large gatherings.
  • Physically distance yourself at least six feet from people who do not live in your household.
  • Find a site to get your influenza vaccine.
  • Get the vaccine.
  • Stay home when you are sick.

Dr. Dionne Hart is an adjunct assistant professor in the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and Science. She is board certified in psychiatry and addiction medicine. She practices community and public psychiatry at multiple sites. Dr. Hart has held multiple leadership positions in national, state, and local medical organizations including serving as the first chair of the American Medical Association’s Minority Affairs Section. She currently serves as president of the Minnesota Association of African American Physicians, a chapter of the National Medical Association, and is a trustee of the Minnesota Medical Association.