By Thomas Haus, M.D., Family Medicine
Getting the flu means putting your life on hold, and missing school or work affects everyone in your family. The best way to protect against influenza is to get an annual flu vaccine. Influenza is a contagious respiratory disease that can lead to serious complications, hospitalization, or even death. Because flu viruses are constantly changing, the vaccine is updated from one season to the next. When you are vaccinated, you are also helping protect newborns and people with chronic health conditions who are unable to get the flu vaccine.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that people get the influenza vaccination as soon as it becomes available, which is early Fall in Minnesota. Unless there are other health risks, everyone 6 months and older is encouraged to get an annual flu vaccine. It takes 14 days for antibodies to develop, so the earlier you have immunity, the earlier you will be protected. The peak of the flu season is in January and February and typically ends in April. According to the CDC and vaccine manufacturers, an early vaccination will be effective throughout the flu season.
There are several vaccine options each flu season, and your health care provider will know which one is best for you. A common flu vaccine is made to protect against four different flu viruses (called “quadrivalent” vaccines) are available as well as a nasal spray vaccine, and a high-dose vaccine. Some individuals and their caregivers may need a high-dose vaccination due to being in a high-risk group. If you have questions about which vaccine is best for you, and why, talk to your health care provider.
Influenza Decreases Risk and Makes Illness Milder
It’s not possible for the CDC to predict with certainty which flu viruses will predominate during a given season. Recent studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40-60% among the overall population. However, even if the viruses in the vaccine are not closely matched against the circulating strains, the vaccine can still make the illness milder and prevent more serious flu-related complications.
Most people don’t normally experience any side effects, but it could happen. Side effects are generally limited to redness and soreness at the injection site. No one wants the flu and no one wants to put their life on hold.
Protect yourself and your family by getting the flu vaccine this year, and every year. Most health insurance companies cover the cost.