February and March are peak months for influenza, and according to the Centers for Disease Control, the majority of the United States, including Oregon, is reporting widespread flu activity. Your best protection is a flu shot, and it’s not too late to get vaccinated.

“Influenza kills more people each year than every other vaccine-preventable disease combined,” says Dr. Pilar Bradshaw.

How do I know if I have the flu?
Influenza is a highly contagious viral infection of the respiratory passages. The flu can last for up to a couple weeks, and it can be deadly. Symptoms include:

  • High fever
  • Chills
  • Muscle aches
  • Headache
  • Congestion
  • Cough

“If you develop a sudden onset of these severe symptoms, see your doctor, preferably on day one or two. Don’t wait for day 4, 5 or 6 of a high fever, because at that point, there’s less that we can do to help,” Dr. Bradshaw says.

Dr. Loranée Braun is a pediatric infectious disease expert with Eugene Pediatric Associates. She says each year researchers study the strains of influenza circulating around the globe to design what they hope will be an effective vaccine.

“Flu viruses change as they replicate,” Dr. Braun says. “We won’t know if there’s a perfect match between the strains covered by the vaccine and the virus circulating until the season is over. Although, the vaccine is usually about 70 percent effective.”

Can I still get the flu if I’m vaccinated?
The flu shot cannot give you the flu, but it also doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get the virus if you’re immunized. What the vaccine is designed to do is to protect you from dying from the flu—much like wearing a seatbelt.

“Every time we put our children in the car we buckle them up, because we know that’s going to decrease their risk of dying if an accident occurs,” says Dr. Braun. “The child may be injured in a crash, but they’re unlikely to die if they have a seatbelt on. Similarly, the flu vaccine may not keep you from getting sick, but it reduces the risk that you’re going to die from the illness.”

It’s not too late to get a flu shot
People began receiving flu shots last fall, so the supply of available vaccine in the community is dwindling. If you or your child haven’t been vaccinated yet, you are encouraged to do so soon. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to be fully effective.