Cooling temperatures and falling leaves signify not only the end of summer but the start of the flu season. Flu season does not begin on any specific date. The timing, severity, and duration of the flu season can all vary from year to year. In the United States, the flu season typically begins in the fall and lasts through the first weeks of spring.

Every flu season has several weeks during which there is an increase in flu activity. This period is commonly referred to as the peak month of flu activity. The peak month is characterized by a significant increase in the number of people diagnosed with influenza during this time. Flu activity tends to peak most frequently in December, January, and February.

What Is the Flu?

The flu is a communicable respiratory disease that is caused by influenza viruses. There are several types of influenza virus. Virus types A and B are responsible for the widespread seasonal outbreaks each year. Both types of influenza viruses are extremely contagious and can spread rapidly from person to person. You can best protect yourself by getting the flu vaccine, which defends against virus types A and B. Due to the highly infectious nature of the flu, it is critically important to get your flu shot as soon as possible.

How Is The Flu Virus Spread?

The flu virus is spread in several ways. When an infected individual talks, laughs, coughs or sneezes, the virus is then released into the air and onto nearby surfaces. From there, the virus can be breathed in and subsequently infect anyone nearby. The flu can also be transmitted by kissing, or by the shared use of items like straws, phones, silverware, lipstick and more. It is also possible to contract the flu after touching a contaminated object such as a doorknob or a keyboard, then touching your mouth, nose or eyes. 

Flu Symptoms

An individual who has contracted the flu may be contagious even if they are not yet symptomatic. This means that someone could be spreading the flu without even realizing they are sick. This is one of the reasons that the flu can spread so rapidly and effectively. You should not wait until people start getting sick to get your flu vaccine; by that time you may have already been exposed. Symptoms of the flu range from mild to severe. The most common flu symptoms include headache, high fever, runny nose, sore throat, cough, muscle aches, chills, sinus congestion, nausea, and fatigue. Once symptoms appear, they tend to progress swiftly. 

Flu Complications and Risks

Complications from the flu are not uncommon, especially among high-risk individuals. Some flu complications can be potentially dire, such as pneumonia. Certain age groups are considered high risk for contracting the flu. Young children and the elderly are especially susceptible. Pregnancy can also increase the likelihood of getting the flu, as can certain medical conditions. Individuals with asthma, cancer, sickle cell anemia, diabetes, epilepsy, kidney disease, and heart disease are considered high risk. People who have a compromised immune system or are morbidly obese are also high risk. 

The flu vaccine is not immediately effective. It takes between two and four weeks after you receive the flu shot for it to become effective. It takes time for your body to begin producing the necessary antibodies to combat influenza. This is why it is so important that you get your vaccination as soon as you can. During the two weeks between getting your shot and when the vaccine becomes effective, you are at risk of contracting the flu. It is also important to remember that the influenza virus evolves rapidly and changes from season to season. It is for this reason that annual vaccination is so crucial. Each year brings a new flu strain, and it is important that you get the vaccine specifically designed to combat it.

Flu Vaccine Benefits

Like most things in life, the flu vaccine is not 100% effective. This should in no way deter you from getting your flu shot, however, because it is by far the best protection available. There are other benefits to getting vaccinated, aside from potentially preventing infection. Studies have shown that individuals who get the flu vaccine experience milder symptoms and are far less likely to be hospitalized due to the flu virus or for related complications. Getting your flu shot annually doesn’t just help protect you, it can also aid in the protection of others. When enough people are vaccinated, it strengthens the collective health of the community. The concept of herd immunity is especially vital for high-risk groups.

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