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Fall Safety Series with Dr. Sharma - Issue #3: Flu Facts

Ritu Sharma, M.D.

As we enter flu season, Chilton Hospital's Ritu Sharma, M.D. would like to share with the community some very important information about the virus:

The flu vs. a cold: What are the differences and similarities?

  • Influenza, a.k.a. “the flu,” is seasonal—usually from winter into early spring—whereas a cold can be caught anytime.
  • Both are viral infections that can occur in the upper or lower respiratory tract.
  • They have similar symptoms such as cough, headache, sore throat and congestion. However, influenza usually comes with high fevers, fatigue and weakness. The flu can also come on abruptly and may be life-threatening.
  • Neither one can be treated with antibiotics.
  • There are medications available for treating the flu that make the symptoms less severe and shorten the course of the illness.
  • There is a vaccine for the flu, but not for a cold. Receiving a flu vaccine does not guarantee that you will not be sick all winter, but it does prevent illness due to flu.

Who can get the flu?
Anyone can get the flu, but younger and older people are more susceptible to the disease. Also people with certain medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease can also be more sensitive to illness.

How can I prevent myself from getting the flu?
Most diseases are spread through droplets in the air and also on objects. We often touch something then touch our face or eyes, causing the spread of germs. Hand washing is the easiest way to prevent spread of bacteria or viruses. Also, try cough or sneezing into your elbows, rather than your hands. Stay clear of anyone who is coughing or sneezing. I highly recommend to get your yearly flu shot. It does not give you the flu, although you may have some symptoms as you can with any vaccination, such as fever or aching.

Do I really need to get my flu shot every year?
The influenza virus is different every year. Although there are several different types of influenza virus, the vaccine represents three to four of the most common types for that particular season. There are also different vaccines for each age group. Children between six months and three years old receive a small dose, and if receiving it for the first time, they must get a booster shot in one month. Seniors over the age of 65 should receive a high-dose vaccine so that their body can get appropriate immunity. Everyone else can receive the same vaccine and also have other options such as a nasal mist or an intradermal shot. Check with your physician to see which influenza vaccine is right for you.

Dr. Sharma is board certified in Internal Medicine and Pediatrics. Her practice is at the Chilton Family Health and Wellness Center, 909 Ringwood Ave., in Haskell, NJ. To make an appointment, call (973) 831-6700

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