Flu season still in swing; not too late to get a shot

LAWRENCEVILLE - According to the Georgia Division of Public Health, flu season is officially under way in Georgia and the virus has reached widespread status, meaning cases have been reported in at least half of the state's regions.

The good news is it's not too late to get vaccinated, health officials said.

"It is always a good idea to get the flu vaccine soon after it becomes available every year. However, flu activity can occur as late as May," said Annalise Monte, an occupational health nurse at Gwinnett Medical Center.

"So, getting a vaccine later in the season can still offer protection in most years."

Monte said the vaccine takes about two weeks to provide protection and cannot protect you from flu viruses already in your body, nor will it provide protection from non-flu viruses. This two-week period often helps fuel the misconception that a "flu shot" causes the flu.

"Sometimes people will get the flu soon after taking the vaccine and relate this illness directly as cause and effect of the vaccine," she said. "Many people state to us in occupational health, 'I got the flu.' However, when you start to ask them more questions, what they really have is the common cold."

For those who would rather wait to treat the flu if and when they get the virus, Monte said that might not be the best idea.

"Flu viruses can change within the course of one flu season," she said, "and some changes can result in the viruses being resistant to one or more of the antiviral drugs that are used to treat flu."

Monte said there is also a small window available for taking these medications. Tamiflu, for instance, needs to taken within 48 hours of the first symptoms.

"Then, of course, there is always the possibility of suffering from side effects such as nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, dizziness and headache," Monte said.