With flu season approaching, one IU expert is encouraging everyone to get a flu shot

It’s that time of year again.

Time to start thinking about ways to protect yourself against influenza, most commonly known as the flu.

“Influenza is a serious disease,” said Nancy Macklin, a nurse practitioner and director of nursing at the Indiana University Health Center. “We use the term flu to talk about everything from a cold to a stomachache. But we are talking about influenza, a viral disease which can be quite serious.”

Flu shot pic

An IU employee receives a flu shot during a flu shot clinic.

Influenza, or the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus strains which mainly spread by coughing, sneezing, and close contact. The flu usually strikes suddenly, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and can last several days with symptoms including fever/chills, sore throat, muscle aches, fatigue, cough, headache and runny or stuffy nose.

The flu can be more dangerous for infants and young children, people 65 years of age and older, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions or a weakened immune system.

Most seasonal flu activity typically occurs between Oct. and May and according to the CDC peaks in the U.S. between Dec. and Feb.

While there is no way to predict how severe a flu season might be, the best way to ensure you are not infected is for those who are able to receive a flu vaccine, Macklin said.

“Even those who are healthy can become quite ill and for some it can be fatal, Macklin said. “That’s why we emphasize the flu shot, because it does provide the best protection.”

After last year’s vaccine failed to protect people against one strain of influenza virus when that stain mutated or drifted after the flu vaccine was formulated, federal health officials said this year’s vaccine should do a better job.

This year both trivalent (three component) and quadrivalent (four component) influenza vaccines are available, meaning they protect against either three or four influenza viruses.

Regardless of the sometimes unpredictability of flu season, Macklin said flu vaccines do work. She also shot down some of the myths associated with the vaccine such as the idea that you can get the flu from the flu shot, that flu vaccines simply do not work or that if you get the vaccine “too early” it will wear off.

“There are a lot of myths out there, but the flu shot is the best protection we have,” she said. “You don’t want to catch the flu and you don’t want to help spread it.”

Other tips for avoiding the flu this season:

  • Wash your hands frequently with warm, soapy water
  • Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
  • Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage stress, eat nutritious foods and drink plenty of fluids.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched areas at home, work and school
  • Stay home when you are sick and avoid close contact with people who are sick

Numerous IU campuses are offering opportunities for students, faculty and staff to receive a flu vaccine. Read more information on flu shot clinics on all campuses.

More information on influenza and ways to protect yourself are available on the CDC’s website.

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