Fall is here, which also means that the holiday season – and peak flu season – are right around the corner. Influenza (flu) is an infectious respiratory virus that affects the nose, the throat and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness and even death.
Each season, 5 percent to 20 percent of the population is infected with the flu, with around 200,000 cases requiring hospitalization. Those with weaker immune systems, such as the elderly and the very young, are particularly vulnerable.
Here are some common questions and answers regarding the flu vaccination.
When is flu season?
The timing of flu is unpredictable and can vary from season to season and around the country. Seasonal flu viruses can be detected year-round; however, seasonal flu activity often begins as early as October and November and can continue into May. It most commonly peaks in the United States between December and February.
How can I prevent getting infected with the flu?
Getting a flu shot is the most effective way to prevent getting sick during the time of the year when the virus is most common. The flu shot is meant to build your immunity to the active strain (or strains) during that particular season, so even if you do fall ill with the flu, having the vaccination will help to reduce the number of days you are affected. The effectiveness of the shot varies from year to year.
When should I get a flu shot?
Most doctors recommend getting a flu shot during October. Children ages six months through eight years who need two doses should receive the first dose as soon as possible after the vaccine becomes available in order to receive the second dose – which must be administered at least four weeks later – by the end of October.
How does the flu shot work?
Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection through the viruses that are in the vaccine. In seasons when the vaccine viruses matched circulating strains, flu vaccination has been shown to reduce the risk of having to go to a doctor because of flu illness by 40 percent to 60 percent.
Will the flu shot make me sick?
No, flu vaccinations cannot cause flu illness. Flu vaccinations given with a needle (i.e., flu shots) are currently made in one of two ways: The vaccine is made with flu viruses that have been “inactivated” (killed) and therefore are not infectious, or it’s made using only a single gene from a flu virus (as opposed to the full virus) in order to produce an immune response without causing infection.
Some people do report having mild reactions to the flu vaccination. The most common side effects are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling at the site where the shot was given. Low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches may also occur.
Where can I get a flu shot?
In Door County, you can receive a flu shot for a $38 fee (or check to see whether your insurance will cover it) at these clinic sites: the Washington Island Community Center on Oct. 3, 10-11:30 am and 1-2:15 pm; the Aging & Disability Resource Center in Sturgeon Bay on Oct. 8, 1-2 pm; the Baileys Harbor Town Hall on Oct. 11, 1-2 pm; the Door County Government Center in Sturgeon Bay on Oct. 14, 3-5 pm; the Brussels Community Center on Oct. 17, 1-2 pm; and the Liberty Grove Town Hall on Oct. 18, 11 am – 12 pm. If possible, wear clothing with short sleeves to the clinics. Physicians’ offices, clinics, health departments and pharmacies also administer flu vaccinations.
After getting the flu shot, what else can I do to prevent illness?
In addition to getting a seasonal flu vaccination, you can take everyday preventive actions such as staying away from sick people and washing your hands frequently and thoroughly to reduce the spread of germs.
If you are sick with the flu, stay home from work or school to prevent spreading it to others.
In addition, prescription medications called antivirals can be used to treat flu illness. These drugs work best if taken within 48 hours of when symptoms start. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that people who are at high risk of developing serious flu complications and who get flu symptoms during flu season be treated with antiviral drugs as quickly as possible, without waiting for confirmatory testing.