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Flu season is upon us. How important is it for me and my family to get a flu vaccine this year?

— Jamie, Burley

Answered by Dr. Trevor Satterfield, M.D., St. Luke’s Clinic, Family Medicine:

It is important to get a flu vaccine each year. It is much better to prevent an illness than to try and cure it. With the annual flu vaccine, we are trying to stop the spread of the virus before it becomes a problem. The influenza virus does have the potential to be very harmful, killing an estimated 20,000-40,000 Americans each year.

Many people believe that getting the flu vaccine will make them sick with the flu. The vaccine does not cause the flu, though some people may experience slight tenderness around the shot area. If you do get sick, it might be a cold, not the flu. It is likely that you were already exposed at some other time and the timing is coincidental.

It is good to remember that a cold is not the flu, though the two terms are interchanged often. A cold will present with a variety of symptoms, like sneezing, cough, running or stuffed nose or sore throat. With influenza, symptoms are similar, yet different — fever, headaches, body aches, sore throat or stuffy nose, and many times can lead to respiratory issues, especially in high risk populations, like babies, toddlers and the elderly.

There are two ways in which the flu vaccine can be administered. The most common form is with a shot, which is available to all ages. Another alternative is through a nasal spray, which can be given to people from the ages of 2 and 49. There may be reasons why some people may not be able to get the nasal spray inoculation versus the injection — they may have asthma or some other condition that would not allow them to use the nasal spray.

Even though the vaccine does fully protect you from getting influenza, it is better to have some form of protection than nothing at all, especially if you or one of your family members fall into a high risk group, such as small children and the elderly. These populations are especially susceptible to the flu, so it is important to reduce the risk factors of getting influenza.

You can get the flu vaccine at your primary care doctor’s office. Just call and they will schedule a time to come when it is convenient for you. There are also a variety of local retail outlets that also offer the vaccine.

Disclaimer: The content of this article is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Do not stop or delay seeking treatment because of something you read in this article. Further, the views or opinions expressed in this article are for informational purposes only and do not necessarily represent those of St. Luke’s. Reliance on any information provided by St. Luke’s, St. Luke’s employees or others supplying information for the column at the invitation of St. Luke’s is solely at your own risk.

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