It’s time to get your flu shot — if you haven’t already. You owe it to yourself, and to protect the people around you.
Influenza is a highly contagious respiratory illness most commonly spread through coughing and sneezing. While most people who contract it experience no more than fever, chills, aches, cough and congestion, it can be serious — and even fatal.
The federal Centers for Disease Control says people should be getting vaccinated by the end of October. But its medical staff add that getting vaccinated later, however, can still be beneficial and vaccination should continue to be offered throughout flu season, even into January or later.
In fact, writing in the New York Times, columnist Jane Brody recently reported that November is still a great time to get your shot.
“Although there are some cases of flu in October and November in the United States, flu season here doesn’t usually get going full speed until December, peaking in most years in February and usually ending by April,” she said in a Nov. 5 column.
Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, told Brody that “immunity induced by the flu vaccine, which is rarely greater than 60 percent to begin with, tends to wane by 20 percent a month, leaving those who got their shot in August or September with less than desirable protection by the time they’re exposed to a variant of flu virus their body doesn’t recognize.”
Osterholm said that “since 95 percent of flu outbreaks start in mid-December, it’s best to get the flu shot in early to mid-November.”
The CDC estimates that flu has resulted in between 9.3 million and 49 million illnesses each year in the United States since 2010. That’s resulted in between 140,000 and 960,000 hospitalizations each year since.
In its report for the week ending Nov. 10, the Washington State Department of Health said flu activity was low but starting to pick up. There have been two confirmed flu-related deaths in the state so far this season. However, 2017-18 was the state’s deadliest flu season in many years, with 296 confirmed deaths, up from 278 the prior year — which itself was comparatively bad. In a low-flu year, such as 2011-12, as few as 20 Washington residents succumb to the illness.
Information about fatalities, especially about deaths of children, make for grim reading on the CDC website. Time magazine reported that flu and its complications killed almost 80,000 people in the U.S. last year, including 180 children. That’s the highest flu death toll in four decades.
So here are some tips:
• Everyone six months of age or older needs a flu vaccine.
• It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies that protect against flu to develop in the body
• Children 6 months through 8 years of age who need two doses of vaccine to be protected should start the vaccination process sooner; if it is their first vaccination, the two doses must be given at least four weeks apart.
In addition to getting vaccinated, the CDC states something that should be obvious, but is worth repeating: You can take everyday preventive actions like staying away from sick people and washing your hands to reduce the spread of germs.
And if you do contract flu-like symptoms, get medical help. If you are sick with flu, stay home from work or school to prevent spreading flu to others.
That latter point is a key.
Many pharmacies offer flu shots — along with vaccines for illnesses like shingles, which can be extremely serious for people 60-plus. Many insurance providers require only a very small co-pay.
This kind of preventive medicine is an investment in your own health, and that of family, friends and co-workers — in fact, everyone you encounter in your daily life.
If there is a small cost, it is money well spent.
• For definitive details about all aspects of flu shots, log on to www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2018-2019.htm
In Washington state, see tinyurl.com/WA-Flu-News