Ok, ok, that title may be a bit dramatic… but it’s not too far off. Be a good citizen and get a flu shot. The single best way to protect (you and OTHERS) against the flu is to get vaccinated each year.
The New York Times is reporting that if you’ve waited until now to get your flu shot, you may have done yourself a favor. I got mine yesterday at the wellness clinic at work, so this is welcome news.
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.
I’ve just learned from Dr. Michael T. Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, 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.
Dr. Osterholm suggested 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 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nation’s infectious disease experts, recommends that everyone, starting at age 6 months, get a seasonal flu shot every year. Children younger than 6 months can be protected if their mothers get a flu shot during pregnancy. Annual vaccination is especially important for people 65 and older, those with a chronic illness, pregnant women and anyone with compromised immunity. These folks are the most susceptible to serious and possibly fatal complications should they get the flu.
Scientists believe the flu virus is spread mainly by droplets when infected people cough, sneeze or talk from as much as six feet away and the virus-laden droplets land in the mouths or noses of others. How you can help: Always cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue that is immediately discarded, or cover your mouth with the crook of your elbow. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth unless you have just washed your hands.
Clean hands, washed with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, are always important. The flu virus can survive for up to eight hours on hard surfaces, so it can be picked up from a doorknob, handrail or even a light switch. (You want to wash your hands now, don’t you?)
Why you should get the flu shot even if you’re not in a susceptible group: herd immunity. Herd immunity is the idea that when most people get the flu vaccine, it helps protect the population as a whole. This is because there are fewer infected people to transmit the highly contagious illness. This only works if lots of us get the vaccine. When you get a flu shot, it helps protect everyone you come into contact with, from your grandma to your pregnant friend to the stranger next to you on the plane who can’t get a flu shot because of an allergy.
Bottom line: Get a flu shot.