Back to Living Better

What you need to know about the 2018-2019 flu season

What should you know to protect yourself during the 2018-2019 flu season? Brett Prylinski, D.O., a family medicine physician at Piedmont, weighs in.

Why was last year’s flu season so deadly?

Each year, between 12,000 and 50,000 people typically die from the flu. However, in 2017-2018, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated 80,000 died from the virus, making it the deadliest season since 1976, when the first paper was published reporting total seasonal flu deaths.

“When you get a flu shot each year, you give your immune system an advantage against the strains of the virus that the CDC believes will be the most common that year,” says Dr. Prylinski. “Every once in a while, we will see an outbreak of a different strain or a more aggressive strain, which is what we saw last year.”

Who needs a flu shot?

Everyone over the age of six months needs a flu shot unless your doctor tells you otherwise.

“If you are considering not getting a flu shot, I encourage you to keep an open mind,” says Dr. Prylinski. “Have a discussion with your doctor to get the correct information about the flu shot. Your doctor knows a lot about what they are recommending to you, just like when they recommend any other medication.”

Why is it important to get a flu shot?

There are several reasons to get a flu shot:

  • When you get a flu shot, you protect others. “Getting a flu shot is not just about yourself,” he says. “We rely on you not to expose someone with a weaker immune system who is more likely to die from the flu, such as someone on chemotherapy, a child under age 5 or an adult over age 65.”

  • The flu shot can reduce the severity of illness if you get the flu. It is possible to get the flu even if you have a flu shot. But the good news is the flu shot can shorten the length of the illness and reduce the severity of your symptoms.

  • The flu shot reduces your risk of serious complications. “Research has shown that if you are hospitalized with the flu, you are 56 percent less likely to be admitted to the ICU if you previously had a flu shot,” says Dr. Prylinski.  

Common flu shot myths

  • Misconception: The flu shot will give you the flu. “The vaccine does not contain a live virus – it is essentially pieces of a virus or a dead viral shell that helps your body make antibodies," he says. "These antibodies are like ‘wanted’ posters – they help your immune system catch the virus before it can make you sick. It is possible to have an immune response when you get the flu shot that makes you feel tired or achy, but that’s very different from being infected with the flu.”

  • Misconception: You only need a flu shot if you’ve had the flu before. You should get a flu shot even if you’ve never had the flu. “It doesn’t matter whether or not you’ve had the flu before,” says Dr. Prylinski. “The first time can kill you.”

  • Misconception: There is a stomach flu. “There is no such thing as the stomach flu,” he explains. “Some people can feel achy and tired when they have a gastrointestinal infection, but the flu is a respiratory virus.”

  • Misconception: You don’t need the flu shot every year. “Not all of our vaccines provide lifelong immunity,” says Dr. Prylinski. “For example, you need a tetanus shot every 10 years. The flu virus is always changing, so you need to get vaccinated each year.”

  • Misconception: It’s too late to get vaccinated. “Flu season peaks in December through February. We recommend getting your flu shot before the end of October each year since it takes two weeks for the antibodies to develop,” he says. “That said, it’s never too late to get a flu shot since flu season can last into the spring.”

Flu shots are available at Piedmont’s urgent care locations, primary care offices and Piedmont QuickCare at Walgreens locations.  

Dr. Prylinski practices at Piedmont Physicians East Paces Buckhead Family Practice, located at 371 East Paces Ferry Road Northeast, Suite 300, Atlanta, Ga., 30305. Schedule an appointment with Dr. Prylinski or another primary care physician online. Save time, book online.