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Preparing For Flu Season: What You Should Know About The Flu Vaccine

image of k state and washburn basketball mascots encouraging people to get the flu shot

As summer turns to fall, you’re pulling out your sweaters and boots. The transition is going well until you wake up one morning with a sore throat, cough, chills, and aches all over. And then it hits you: You’ve got the flu.

While your first question may be, “Why me?” you may also have a few other questions about the flu, flu season, and the flu vaccine. Here’s information on our flu clinics and the answers to some top flu FAQs.

Flu Shot Clinics

Cotton O’Neil physicians recommend that everyone 6 months of age and older get a flu immunization. Flu shots are available from your physician at all Cotton O’Neil primary care offices and Cotton O’Neil Express Care locations.

For the General Public

Flu shots are available on a walk-in basis at all five of the Cotton O’Neil Express Care locations in Topeka from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on weekdays and noon to 3 p.m. on weekends.


What is the Flu?

When people refer to the flu, they’re usually talking about seasonal influenza — a contagious respiratory virus whose symptoms are sometimes confused with the common cold.

Some flu cases are mild. But others can lead to serious — possibly even deadly — complications. Regardless of severity, one thing is true: the best way to prevent the flu is by getting the flu vaccine each year.

Flu Vs Cold: What’s the Difference?

The cold and the flu have several symptoms in common, such as:

  • Weakness or fatigue
  • Sneezing
  • Sore throat
  • Chest discomfort
  • Cough

But one of the telltale differences between the seasonal flu and the common cold is how quickly symptoms develop: Flu symptoms tend to hit you all at once, while cold symptoms tend to develop more gradually. Cold symptoms are also usually milder than flu symptoms.

Other key differences include:

  • Fever: more common flu symptom
  • Chills: more common flu symptom
  • Aches: more common flu symptom
  • Headache: more common flu symptom
  • Runny or stuffy nose: more common cold symptom

How does the Flu Spread?

The main way the flu virus spreads is through droplets released when a sick person talks, sneezes, or coughs.

What makes the flu so contagious, however, is the fact that the virus can spread from an infected person to a healthy person before the infected person starts to show symptoms. In other words, you can have the flu but not yet know it — and spread it to others accidentally.

And, once you start to show symptoms, you may still be contagious up to a week after first contracting the flu.

Who’s at Risk for Complications from the Flu?

Some people have a higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications, such as pneumonia. People considered high-risk include:

  • Children younger than 5 — and especially children younger than 2
  • Adults age 65 and over
  • Pregnant women and women who are up to 2 weeks postpartum
  • Nursing home and long-term care facility residents
  • American Indians and Alaska Natives

Some medical conditions can also increase your risk of complications from the flu, including:

As with most contagious illnesses, people with weakened immune systems — such as those who have had an organ transplant or are undergoing chemotherapy — are also at a higher risk of developing complications from the flu.

When Should You See a Health Care Provider for the Flu?

Most of the time, the seasonal flu isn’t something that warrants a visit to your health care provider. However, if you are considered high-risk for flu complications, you should see your provider as soon as you notice flu symptoms — especially within the first 48 hours. They may be able to prescribe antiviral medications to shorten the length of your illness and lower your risk of complications.

How Can You Prevent the Flu from Spreading?

It’s easy to spread the flu because it is so contagious. But there are simple steps you can take to prevent the spread of the flu, including:

  • Avoiding contact with people who have the flu — or avoiding contact with others if you are the one with the flu
  • Staying home from school or work if you have the flu
  • Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze
  • Keeping your hands clean by washing with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Not touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
  • Keeping your home, office, etc. clean and disinfected
  • Getting the flu vaccine each year

How does the Flu Vaccine Work?

The flu vaccine protects your body against the flu by signaling your immune system to build antibodies that fight against infection. It usually takes about 2 weeks for these antibodies to build up after getting the vaccine.

There are several different types of flu vaccines available, and each year they are developed to protect against different strains of the flu. There are two main differences between the various types of flu shots:

The first difference has to do with the number of flu viruses the vaccine protects against (typically 3 or 4, called trivalent or quadrivalent, respectively). The second difference is based on how the inactivated flu viruses in the vaccine were developed (egg-based, cell-based, or protein-based).

Regardless of the type, the flu vaccine does not contain a live version of the flu. In other words: the flu usually do not cause the flu.

  1. You cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine. The inactivated version of the virus in the vaccine is specifically developed to not be infectious.
  2. The flu vaccine is safe for pregnant women — and can protect both mother and baby before and after birth.
  3. Getting the flu vaccine can help lower the rate of hospitalization for people with diabetes and chronic lung disease.
  4. While the flu vaccine is intended to prevent you from getting sick, it can also decrease the severity of your illness if you end up getting the flu.
  5. Getting vaccinated against the flu helps protect people around you from getting the flu — especially people who cannot get vaccinated themselves.

Who Should Get the Flu Vaccine — and Who Shouldn’t?

The flu vaccine is recommended for most people age 6 months or older, including women who are pregnant as well as people who have chronic health conditions. The specific type of vaccine that is right for you may vary depending on your age and overall health. Your health care provider can help determine which is best.

While most people can get the flu vaccine safely, people who should not get the flu vaccine include:

You should talk to your health care provider before getting the flu shot if you:

  • Have an allergy to eggs or any other ingredients in the vaccine
  • Have ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome
  • Are not feeling well at the time you are trying to get your vaccine

When Is Flu Season — And When Should You Get the Flu Vaccine?

While you can technically contract the flu year-round, it is more common in the fall and winter. Cases of the flu tend to begin to increase in October and peak sometime between December and February.

Because flu season typically begins in the fall, early fall is the best time to get vaccinated. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting vaccinated by the end of October. However, you can still get vaccinated later in the flu season — even into the winter.