It’s not too late to protect yourself against the flu.

By Ehtaisham Mohammed, MD

As we near the end of the year, it’s important for the community to understand that it’s not too late to get a flu shot. In fact we are just now hitting the peak of the flu season and it will remain a threat through March. The more people who get vaccinated, the less influenza can spread throughout the community.

How is influenza spread?
Influenza is an airborne respiratory infection spread from one person to another through coughing and sneezing, although people may become infected by touching something that was recently contaminated and then touching their face.

Who should get vaccinated?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season. It is especially crucial for the elderly who are at high risk of serious complications from influenza.

Why do I need a vaccine every year?
The body’s immune response decreases over time, so it is necessary to receive a shot each year for the highest level of protection. Also, flu viruses change each year so the vaccination is adjusted each season for the expected strains to be circulating in the upcoming flu season.

If I get a shot, can I still get the flu?
Yes. There is still a possibility that you could get the flu even if you have been vaccinated. Usually, it takes about two weeks for the body to produce antibodies after receiving the flu shot. If you are exposed to influenza during this time period, you may become infected. Also, if the viral strain in the vaccine and the viruses circulating in the community are not closely matched, the vaccine may be less effective. It is still recommended that you get a flu shot as it provides some protection against influenza-like illness.

Where can I get vaccinated?
If you were not able to receive your vaccination through a fall flu clinic, you are encouraged to call your clinic directly and schedule an appointment for your shot.

What is the cost?
Preventive services – including flu vaccines – are fully covered under most insurance plans including Medicare Part B. If you are unsure if the flu vaccination is covered under your insurance plan, call your plan provider directly to inquire.

What’s new this year?
Only the injectable vaccination is available this year. The flu mist or nasal spray vaccine is not recommended due to concerns about its effectiveness.

How are people treated for influenza?
If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms (fever, cough, headaches, body aches, sore throat, chills, runny nose and fatigue) call your doctor’s office immediately. Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication for high risk patients such as nursing home residents, individuals age 65 or older, children under age 5, pregnant women and those with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or chronic heart disease.