This year, getting an annual influenza vaccination is more important than ever, says a Purdue University nursing expert.
There are many reasons for getting a flu shot, says Libby Richards, an associate professor of nursing who specializes in public health in Purdue University’s School of Nursing in the College of Health and Human Sciences. Chief among the reasons is that both the flu and COVID-19 are contagious respiratory illnesses that present similar symptoms.
“Both COVID-19 and the flu can impact the elderly and those with chronic conditions – such as heart and lung disease – the hardest.” Richards says. “Severe cases of both COVID-19 and the flu require the same lifesaving medical equipment.
“This highlights the importance of getting the flu vaccine, not only for your own personal health, but also for the health of your community. Receiving the flu vaccine will help reduce the burden of respiratory illness on our overstretched health care system.”
Once a person has had a flu shot, it takes up to two weeks to reach peak effectiveness.
Children over the age of 6 months and people in high-risk categories such as older adults, pregnant women, and those with asthma, heart and lung disease, diabetes and cancer, should get a shot.
If a person cannot get a flu shot for medical reasons, Richards says, practicing good hygiene is the best method to minimize exposure.
“Washing hands, covering one’s mouth when coughing and properly disposing of tissues and avoiding close contact with others are simple steps to be safe during this time,” she says.
Richards says that if a person is experiencing high fever, a cough, sore throat, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue, they should stay home.
“Most healthy adults will recover from flu without medical intervention. If your symptoms deteriorate rapidly, call your health care provider,” she says. “Everyone should stay home until they are fever-free for 24 hours without the use of over-the-counter medications.”
With similar symptoms, it may be hard to tell the difference between COVID-19 and the flu, and testing may be ordered.
“If symptoms worsen, call your health care provider for advice on next steps, such as testing,” Richards says.