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Kelli T. Wells, M.D., is a family physician and the director of the Florida Department of Health in Duval County. Dr. Wells was named to her current position in May 2013. Dr. Wells is a graduate of Florida A&M University, and the University of Florida College of Medicine. She completed a Family Practice Residency at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Jacksonville, Florida.

As a National Health Service Corps Scholar, she spent the first years of her medical career working in Health Department clinics in Duval County, which fostered a love of public health and an intense interest in addressing health disparities.

As the Health Officer of Duval County, Dr. Wells has become an active participant on the Board of Directors of Partnership for Child Health, the co-chair of the Public Health Committee of the Duval County Medical Society, and a member of the Board of Directors for the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition.

Dr. Wells answered your pressing flu questions and provided more info on how to avoid getting sick this flu season.

Never had the flu shot – never had the flu! Stop putting the virus in you with the shot, wash your hands, and take your vitamins! 

Many have adopted this strategy, and with great vigilance this may work for some. But because the flu virus can live on surfaces for up to 24 hours, can be spread by coughing, sneezing at distances up to 6 feet, and are typically carried by children, it can be difficult to effectively practice these measures.  Frequent hand-washing, 20 seconds with vigorous scrubbing, avoiding contact with your eyes, nose and mouth, avoiding ill people, and staying home when you are ill yourself are also great strategies.

If you already had the flu, do you still need to get the flu shot??? 

Unless you were seen by a physician and tested for the flu (so that you have a confirmed diagnosis), my recommendation is to still get the shot.

Since it is early in flu season, if you get the flu now and get treated, can you get the flu again later in the season?

No, you should not get the flu twice – you will develop antibodies to the virus.

I get sick after the flu shot. Is that normal?

Mild illness is possible, especially with the Flu Mist. But it is never as severe as flu infection. Be certain you do not have an allergy to flu vaccine components, such as eggs. 

Dr. Wells, I had the flu shot. The last 2 days I’ve had a low grade fever (100), chills and sweats. l’ve also been coughing and wheezing. I’ve been using a still good inhaler and some prescription cough syrup from last January. I also use Flonase for sinuses sometimes. I’m thinking I should let it run its course. Your thoughts?

Go and get tested for the flu, particularly with a history of asthma. You would not want to miss the opportunity to start medication for the flu, if in fact that is what it is.  Tamiflu (flu treatment) can shorten the course of illness and decrease the chances that you develop complications from infection like pneumonia.

How can you tell the difference between the flu and a very bad cold? 

The flu tends to be associated with severe muscle aches, bad headache. The best analogy is that feeling like you’ve been hit by a truck. Bad colds can cause severe congestion, productive cough, etc., but people with bad colds do not tend to be unable to function. Also, cold symptoms tend to resolve more quickly than flu (flu lasts 10-14 days) unless you develop a sinus infection. This is usually signified by yellow drainage from the nose or brought up with coughing.

How bad is the flu season this year?

The 2014-2015 flu season got off to an early start. Most states in the eastern portion of the United States are experiencing widespread influenza activity, and public health officials are urging everyone to get vaccinated to protect themselves and others against the flu.

Who has been having the most problems with the flu so far?

We typically see activity levels highest in children. Increased influenza activity in children usually comes ahead of increases in activity in adults and the elderly. Also, there has been an increase in the percentage of pregnant women seeking care at emergency departments for influenza or influenza like illnesses (ILI) and the level is similar to what we see at the height of influenza season.

What is this we hear about the flu vaccine not working?

It is true that this year’s flu vaccine is not as effective against the most common flu strain identified this year because the virus has changed. Despite the change or “drift” in this strain, vaccination can still decrease severity of illness. It can also protect against other circulating strains of the virus, which is why vaccination is still recommended.

Is the vaccine safe?

The flu vaccine is safe, and continues to be the best way to protect yourself and others from the flu.

Can I get the flu from a flu shot?

No, a flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness. The viruses in the flu shot are killed (inactivated), so you cannot get the flu from a flu shot. The viruses in the nasal spray vaccine are weakened and do not cause severe symptoms often associated with influenza illness. However, the vaccine may produce side effects that are mild and short-lasting, especially when compared to symptoms of bad case of flu.

Who is most at risk?

All individuals six months of age and older should receive the flu vaccine each year. Since infants younger than 6 months of age are too young to get vaccinated against influenza, it is important that family members (including pregnant mothers) and other caregivers for these children be vaccinated to help protect them from the disease.

What should people do if they come down with the flu?

It is especially important that people who do become infected with the influenza virus stay home when they are sick, and parents keep sick children at home to prevent spreading the flu. Symptoms of the flu include headache, fever, severe cough, runny nose or body aches.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, see your primary care provider immediately for guidance on treatment. Early treatment with antivirals is important and can help people get better more quickly as well as help to prevent severe complications.

Other than getting a flu shot, what else can people do to keep from getting sick?

Avoid those who are sick with fever and cough. Practice good hygiene by washing your hands frequently, and keeping your hands away from your face. Stay hydrated, and maintain a healthy diet that includes the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables.

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