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It’s well into November and signs of the flu are starting to pop up everywhere we look. Sneezing and coughing is starting to run rampant in the office, while headaches and waves of fatigue are on the rise at home. And those of us that have yet to visit the doctor to get a flu shot are thinking, “Is it too late?”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 80,000 people died in the 2017 to 2018 season due to the flu and complications with the virus—marking the deadliest year since 1976, the date of the first published paper reporting total seasonal flu deaths.
This news has the medical community bracing themselves for the season to come. While no one can predict how severe this year's epidemic will be, there are steps you can take to prevent the flu, even this late in the year.
Is it too late?
Although the flu virus circulates all year, the peak months for the virus in the United States tend to be December through February, though cases are known to linger through the end of May.
Though it’s highly suggested that you get your flu shout by the end of October, we all know something’s that just doesn’t happen. The CDC suggests it’s best to get immunized early in the flu season, as it can take one to two weeks for the flu vaccine to become effective, but also states that it’s never too late.
Vaccines are offered to unvaccinated people throughout the flu season, not just prior too. As long as the vaccine is still readily available and the flu shot supply hasn’t run out, you and your loved ones can still get protected against the virus all the way up until the vaccines expiration date of June 30.
The more people to get vaccinated lowers the likelihood that the virus will spread through our communities and cause our friends, family, and neighbors to get sick.
Who is most at-risk for getting the flu?
Children and the elderly are often the most at risk for flu viruses and complications from the virus. And though it is recommended that everyone receive the flu vaccine, it's especially important for those who are at a greater risk of developing complications resulting from the flu virus. They include:
- Children ranging from six months to four years old
- Those 65 years or older
- Women that are pregnant, have recently given birth, or are breastfeeding during the flu season
- Anyone whose immune system is weakened due to chronic illness, certain medications, or preexisting medical condition
- Residents in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes
- Caregivers or anyone in constant contact with high risk groups such as in-home aids or school teachers
According to Craig Knapp, an elder care and abuse expert, most states have laws in place that require all professionals working in long-term health and care facilities to get vaccinated. They also require that the flu shot be readily available to all patients inside the facility unless exempted by medical conditions. If you suspect that is not the case at your loved ones health care facility and they contract the virus, legal action could be taken.
It’s important to check both your children's schools, and your loved ones health care facilities, for information on the use of flu vaccine with staff and caregivers as these age ranges are the most affected by complications with the flu virus.
Who shouldn't get the flu shot?
Everyone should get vaccinated at the beginning of flu season, but there are some factors may prevent you from getting the flu shot. Talk to your doctor to see if the vaccine is still recommended for you if you or your loved one:
- Has ever had a severe reaction to a flu vaccination
- Has had Guillain-Barré syndrome
- Has an egg allergy
- Has a fever or any other cold/flu like symptoms
Where can I get vaccinated?
The availability of 171 to 179 million doses of flu vaccine this year should make it easy to find flu vaccine, even as flu season is underway. The flu vaccine is pretty easy find as many of your local community staples offer shots during this time of year. As you search for your vaccine consider looking at at your local:
- Health care settings, such as doctor’s offices and health clinics
- Pharmacies or supermarkets
- Community centers
- Schools or universities
If you have insurance or Medicare, be sure to check with your primary care doctor before having your kids vaccinated outside of your doctor’s office. Most plans offer coverage for flu vaccinations. Outside of insurance plans, the vaccine may cost anywhere from $10 to $50.
What if I have a dad reaction to the flu shot?
Most people do not have any side effects from the flu shot, however, some people do report mild reactions. According to the CDC, the most common side effects from flu shots are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given. Low-grade fevers, headaches and muscle aches also may occur and can last one to two days after being giving the vaccine.
At the first sign of an allergic reaction, call your doctor.
Other Tips to Preventing the Flu
Flu vaccine or not, there are many other ways to help prevent the spread of the flu virus. And as we head into peak flu season, it becomes more and more important that we band together as a community to take precautionary measures to help stop the spread of illness. Some easy ways to limit your chances of getting the flu and spreading the virus, consider:
- Washing your hands
- Covering coughs and sneezes
- Take preventative vitamins to boost immune system
- Take antiviral drug products
- Staying home when you’re sick
- Clean frequently touched surfaces