Q [Whole Family]: It seems like I hear commercials for the flu shot three times a day, but is this even something we have to worry about in sunny Cali? Isn’t that more of an issue for cold weather places where people are cooped up together?
A: Yes, there absolutely is a flu season in Southern California!
Even though we experience milder winters than other states, it’s imperative to take the steps necessary to protect ourselves and our loved ones from the flu. That said, the timing of flu season is very unpredictable and can vary from season to season. Most commonly, seasonal flu activity peaks between December and March. However, it can begin as early as October and as late as May and certain flu viruses can actually be detected year-round.
So, why so much emphasis on the flu? The flu is a highly contagious and debilitating respiratory infection that can cause serious complications, hospitalizations and, in some cases, even lead to death. It can cause severe body aches, sore throat, dry cough, headaches, weakness and even extreme fatigue.
It’s important that everyone six months of age and older get a flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available in their area. The flu vaccine takes up to two weeks to provide protection. While children, pregnant women and the elderly are more at risk for complications from the flu, it can be just as serious for healthy young adults.
Contrary to popular belief, you cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine. However, when the body is building its defenses, some may experience body aches or a mild fever for a day or two. It’s also important to stress that the influenza virus changes every season. Therefore, everyone should be vaccinated on a yearly basis.
Remember that prevention is key! Getting the influenza vaccine is the most important step we can all take to prevent the flu. Second, we need to take proactive steps to boost our immune system, thus lowering our risk of illness. This includes: keeping our stress levels under control; getting enough sleep; following a healthy balanced diet; and exercising regularly. Also, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs can easily spread this way. And last, make sure you wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand gel.
Wendy Coling, MD is a primary care physician with Kaiser Permanente Orange County and is board certified in both family medicine and internal medicine. Dr. Coling is a strong believer in preventive medicine and is a physician co-lead in Orange County’s Complete Care program. www.kaiserpermanente.org