Recent news reports have warned that the flu season is upon us – local cases are already being seen. Isn’t this early? Actually, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said that the flu season is not showing itself any earlier than usual, according to Dr. Vernon Rubick, medical practice lead for UCHealth Primary Care – Scarborough.
But that doesn’t mean the flu isn’t on its way. The CDC also recommends getting your annual flu shot by the end of October. It takes about two weeks to become effective.
What does a flu shot do?
“The annual flu shot boosts the immune system/antibodies against the flu strains included in the vaccine. This will then protect the individual if they are exposed to this virus type in the future,” Rubick said.
Some years, the shot seems less effective than others. Why is that?
“There is some educated guesswork every year by the World Health Organization (WHO),” he said. “Based on surveillance around the globe, the WHO hypothesizes which flu strains will be most active in the population. If the influenza strains in the vaccine are not the same as those in the population, the vaccine will be only partially effective.”
Some people say they don’t get annual flu shots because the shots themselves make them ill, but Rubick refutes that claim.
“You cannot get the flu from the flu shot. The virus in the annual flu shot is killed (inactivated), thus it cannot replicate and cause disease,” he said.
He believes that everyone age 6 months and older should get the shot annually, “especially the very young, the elderly and the chronically ill. Thousands of people die from influenza annually.”
If you don’t get a shot, or get it too late, and you do get the flu, the symptoms are likely to be fever, headache, body aches and non-productive cough .Patients should see their health care provider within the first 48 hours of symptoms, because there are some anti-viral medications that can be started during this window that may shorten the disease process, and lessen the symptoms, Rubick said.
To get a shot, there are lots of options, he added. UCHealth Primary Care and Urgent Care clinics offer annual flu shots. You also can contact your regular health care provider, or the Public Health Department for information on annal flu shot availability and cost, or to find out if there are any low-cost options available.
If you don’t get a shot, or even if you do, avoid illness this winter by frequent and thorough hand-washing, avoiding touching your nose, mouth and eyes, and staying well away from anyone you know is sick, Rubick advised.