We’re just around the corner from the dreaded flu season (technically, in the US, that's October through May). But as we all know, flu-like symptoms (sore throat, cough—you get the drift) can creep up literally whenever they feel like it. But does that mean you can technically get the flu…say, in August?
The short answer? You bet. "Yes you can get the flu year round, although it’s much more common during the flu season in the winter and spring," Vanessa Raabe, MD, assistant professor of pediatric infectious disease at NYU Langone Health tells Health.
The CDC also confirms that flu viruses are detected year-round, so it's possible to get it as early as—er, technically as late as—August. Symptoms of the flu include: fever, cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, muscle weakness, headaches, and fatigue, which can last anywhere from three to seven days. While most healthy individuals can overcome the illness with rest and letting the body fight the virus on its own, it can be dangerous for certain groups such as the elderly, immunosuppressed, or those who are very young, the CDC says.
Dr. Raabe says one reason you might be at risk of contracting the condition is because your last year's flu shot would have probably worn off by now (vaccines typically last six to seven months). However, she said that this can vary depending on the person.
Luckily, there are a few ways to minimize your chances of contracting the virus before this year's flu shot becomes available—(typically, around mid-September, according to Dr. Raabe).
"Wash hands frequently and thoroughly. Avoid contact with people who are sick," Tania Elliott, MD, an allergist and immunologist at NYU Langone Health, previously told Health. "Avoid sharing utensils and drinks with others. Stay home when sick. Be aware of touching communal things, [such as] stairway rails, subway poles, water fountains. Avoid touching [your] face and mouth. Get proper sleep. Stay hydrated." You know, all the stuff you've been told over and over again.
And, because the flu is constantly changing, you definitely need to get the flu vaccine every single year—no exceptions. That's because each year, the vaccine manufacturers try to create a batch that will provide even better protection than the previous year's.
"This year's flu shot will be similar to last year's, but we hope that every year it becomes a little bit better of a match," says Dr. Raabe. "Sometimes there can be changes in the strains, but every year we try to have a better vaccine to the strains that are going around. But it can be hard to predict from year to year."
Basically, just get the damn shot—ASAP—and stay protected with good hygiene until you do. "I just encourage everybody to talk to their physicians about getting the flu shot, we see about the same number of flu deaths every year as we see from car accidents," Dr. Raabe says. "Although flu shots are not 100% effective, they’re about the same effectiveness as wearing a seatbelt in a car. So its something I encourage everyone to talk to their physician about getting."
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