Flu: Are you protected?

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flu-shot-picDoctors say it’s not too late to get the flu shot

When it comes to addressing health concerns, sooner rather than later is best; when it comes to flu shots, better late than never also rings true.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, influenza is on the rise, and is expected to continue during the coming weeks. Recent stats from state and local health departments mirror the recent uptick. As flu season ramps up, experts say it’s not too late to protect yourself against the nasty flu virus.

“The flu season is likely to last another two to three months, and it only takes a week or two for the flu shot’s protection to take effect,” said Coburn Allen, MD, infectious disease specialist at Dell Children’s Medical Center. Dell Children’s is part of Ascension, the largest nonprofit health system in the U.S. and the world’s largest Catholic health system.

Better late than never

The flu virus is active all year, and due to factors such as climate shift and being cooped up indoors more often, the number of infections peaks in the late fall and early winter. But some outbreaks can last into the spring. Early vaccination offers early protection lasting about six months.

Even if you’ve already had the flu this season, it’s not too late to get the vaccine.

“The virus is always mutating, and when it does it can make you vulnerable again, even if you had the vaccine earlier in the season,” Allen said.

Sooner rather than later

Risks associated with the flu vaccine are very low. You can’t develop flu from the shot. Even if you get the flu despite getting the shot, the vaccine may lessen the severity of your symptoms and keep you out of the hospital.

“Many people have nothing more than a sore arm for a couple of days. Serious side effects are very rare though,” Allen said.

Waiting to get vaccinated has its risks, especially if you’re in greater danger for complications associated with flu.

Anyone is at risk for secondary problems from the flu; however, children under age five and adults over 65, and people with risk factors such as asthma, COPD or low immune systems, are more susceptible to difficulties that could result in hospitalization or even death.

Tick tock, get your shot

With several months left in flu season, there is still time to protect you and your family. Sooner rather than later is vital, since maximum protection takes time.

“Protection begins within about a week, but it starts to peak around two weeks after you get the shot,” Allen said.

The CDC recommends that anyone aged 6 months and older get a flu shot. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns about the flu vaccine.

Tips for reducing the spread of flu

Allen emphasizes that getting immunized is key to protecting you and your loved ones against the flu. For additional prevention measures, use these tips to avoid spreading germs:

  • Wash your hands and hard surfaces often.
  • Don’t share food or drinks.
  • Stay home if you’re sick.

If you do get sick from the flu, call your doctor right away to help decide whether you need a prescription antiviral drug to fight the bug.