There is still some debate around whether or not it is beneficial and/or safe to get vaccinated for the flu. Before diving into the issue at hand, let’s take a look at what the difference is between the common cold versus the flu.
Common Cold vs. Flu – What’s the Difference?
Influenza (flu) and the common cold are both viral infections, but they are caused by different viruses. While they have symptoms that can overlap, the flu tends to have a sudden onset with more severe symptoms.
Typical flu-like symptoms include:
- Muscle aches
- Cold-like symptoms: Cough, sore throat, runny/stuffy nose.
The common cold has similar symptoms as the flu, but these are usually more mild and have a more gradual onset. Both influenza and the common cold will eventually resolve on their own in healthy people. However, influenza can cause complication in people who are considered to be ‘high risk’.
Treatment for the Flu
Unlike the common cold (which has no test), the flu can be diagnosed by a simple nasal swab. If detected via nasal swab, within 48 hours of symptom onset, treatment for the flu includes:
antiviral medication (Tamiflu)
- Supportive treatment with fluids
- Anti-inflammatory medication
- Cough suppressants
The Importance of Getting Vaccinated for the Flu
While most people will recover from the flu in a couple of weeks, the flu is associated with increased risk of hospitalization or death in certain people.
People at risk include:
- Pregnant women
- Young children
- People with certain chronic health conditions (lung disease, asthma, COPD, heart disease, cancer, HIV/AIDS, diabetes)
Complications from the flu can vary and include minor complications, such as: sinus and ear infections all the way up to more serious complications like: Pneumonia, Myocarditis (inflammation of heart wall), encephalitis (inflammation of the brain), and sepsis (bloodstream infection) – all of which can lead to death.
Having the flu can also worsen chronic conditions, such as asthma, COPD, and heart conditions.
What types of flu shots are there?
Even though there is a nasal spray vaccine that is FDA approved, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that the nasal spray vaccine should NOT be used during the 2016-2017 season because there are some concerns as to its effectiveness. Therefore, the CDC is only recommending injectable flu shots at this time.
There are several injectable options available, including a trivalent vaccine, which protects against 3 strains of the flu. The quadrivalent flu vaccine protects against 4 different strains of the flu, including influenza type A and two strains of influenza type B.
High Dose Flu Vaccine for 65 Years of Age or Older
There is also a high dose flu vaccine available to people who are 65 years of age or older. This vaccine contains a higher amount of antigen (the part of the vaccine that causes the body to form an antibody). The research is still ongoing whether or not this is beneficial.
The CDC does not have a preference for the type of flu shot patients over 65 years-old should receive, but they do recommend a flu shot for everyone over the age of 65.
When is a good time to get vaccinated for the flu?
The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age or older should get vaccinated for the flu by the end of October. However, vaccination can occur throughout the season.
At what age is it safe for children to get vaccinated for the flu?
The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get a seasonal flu vaccine. Children 6 months through 9 years-old generally require two doses of vaccine the first year that they are immunized. Children who are 9 years-old or older receive one flu shot.
When should I go to the emergency room for the flu?
You should head to the emergency room if you experience any of the following while you have the flu:
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest/abdominal pain
- Severe vomiting
- High fevers
- Worsening of flu symptoms
Children should be brought to the emergency room if you notice:
- Inability to eat/drink fluids
- Having no tears when crying
- Less wet diapers (signs of dehydration)
About Anjali Solanki, DO
Dr. Solanki is a board certified family physician with WakeMed Physician Practices – Brier Creek Medical Group. Before joining WakeMed Physician Practices, Dr. Solanki worked as a primary care and urgent care physician at Valley Health Medical Group in Dumont, N.J., and as a primary care physician at Crozer-Keystone Health Network in Drexel Hill, Pa.
Dr. Solanki treats patients over the age of six. Her clinical interests include preventative health care as well as treating chronic conditions such as hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and asthma.