We are likely just a few weeks away from the release of this year's flu vaccine. It will protect against three specific viruses: H3N2, influenza B and H1N1. As we wait for its release, there are some steps you can start taking today to reduce your risk for getting the flu.
Lisa Verrette has not had the flu since she was a teen, but she has not forgotten how awful it made her feel. "Achy, high, high fever and just miserable," she said, "just absolutely miserable."
Flu season typically lasts from October to March, with the highest infection rate in December.
Lake Area Family Medicine physician Dr. Josh Whatley says certain populations are at a higher risk of having serious flu-related complications. That includes pregnant women, children and those with pre-existing medical conditions. "Not only those groups of people, but also those who take care of them, closely interact with them," said Dr. Whatley, "those people are at a much higher risk of having complications after they get the flu."
The Centers for Disease Control recommends everyone over six months of age get a yearly flu vaccine. The vaccine is developed after extensive monitoring of strains for the past year's flu. "It's kind of a guessing game of what's going on the past year to prevent stuff in the upcoming year," said Dr. Whatley.
New this flu season: A vaccine for people with severe allergies to eggs. For people afraid of big needles, a micro-needle injects the vaccine with just a skin prick.
In addition to getting vaccinated, some everyday precautions can keep you healthy. Stay away from people who are sick and reduce the spread of germs through frequent hand-washing. "I always try to wash my hands as much as I can," said Verrette, "and then I also keep antibacterial wipes in my car and the little individual packs in my purse."
If you are sick, practice good coughing and sneezing etiquette. "Cough, sneeze in a handkerchief or on your sleeve, not in your hands, because it is spread by respiratory droplets," said Dr. Whatley.
It takes two weeks after getting a vaccine for protective antibodies to form, so doctors say it is best to get it as soon as it is available.