The flu season just began this month, and already you’re seeing some worrisome signs. Coworkers have recently begun calling in sick. Your spouse just spent the weekend in bed with a sore throat, fever, aching muscles, and fatigue. Your kids have mentioned that a lot of their classmates have been missing school lately. It’s probably just a matter of time before your number comes up and you come down with a debilitating case of the flu.
You might also be thinking that, with the season already underway, you’ve missed the window of opportunity to get vaccinated against the flu. But the truth of the matter is, the flu season runs from November until May and doesn’t typically peak until January or February, so there’s still plenty of time to get vaccinated if you haven’t come down with the flu yet.
It’s important to get a flu vaccine on an annual basis because the strains of virus that circulate during flu season vary from year to year. Each year’s vaccine contains the strains that health experts believe are most likely to be circulating and causing illness during the upcoming flu season. Even if the current vaccine is composed of the same flu strains as the previous year’s vaccine, it’s still important to get vaccinated again because, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), last year’s vaccine may not be strong enough to protect you this year.
If you're exposed to a strain of the flu not included in the vaccine, or if you’re exposed to the flu during the two-week period required for the vaccine to take full effect, you can become ill. However, when the flu strains selected for the vaccine are a good match for the strains that are circulating, the vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of having to go to the doctor with flu by 40 to 60 percent. The flu vaccine has also been shown in several studies to reduce the severity of illness in people who get vaccinated but still get sick.
The flu shot can cause some side effects, such as minor soreness, redness, or swelling at the injection site; muscle aches; headache; nausea; or low-grade fever. Allergic reactions are uncommon but can occur in people who are allergic to eggs or other components of the flu shot. If you have a known egg allergy or have had a prior severe reaction to the flu shot, it's important to consult with your physician before getting vaccinated.
The CDC recommends that all people over the age of six months get vaccinated against influenza—especially those at greater risk of developing flu-related complications that can lead to hospitalization or death, including children under the age of five, people age 65 or older, pregnant women, and people with chronic health conditions or a compromised immune system. It's also critical for people who live with or work around people in these higher-risk categories to get vaccinated.
Some people avoid betting the flu shot because they believe there's a risk of contracting the flu from the vaccine itself, but this fear is unfounded. The flu vaccine is administered in one of two forms: via injection or an intranasal mist. Injected forms of the vaccine contain either inactivated (dead) flu viruses or proteins from a flu virus, so there's no chance that they can cause the flu. The intranasal mist contains attenuated, or weakened, viruses that are also incapable of causing flu. This form is approved for healthy people between the ages of 2 and 49 years, with the exception of pregnant women.
So what are you waiting for? There's no time like the present to protect yourself—and others around you—from the misery of influenza! ❦