Flu season is here, and parts of the country are beginning to report cases of influenza. Just this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sent a team to the University of Michigan to investigate a sizable flu outbreak on the school’s Ann Arbor campus. New Mexico is also reporting high flu activity. Here in Vermont, public health officials are reporting only minimal flu-like activity to date. Still, the increase in cases in other parts of the country serves as an important reminder to get your flu shot now if you haven’t already.
Influenza is a highly contagious respiratory illness. Severe cases of the flu can lead to hospitalization and even death. Young children, people over age 65, and people with certain chronic health problems such as heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes are at the greatest risk of complications. A yearly flu shot is the most effective way to prevent the flu.
Last year’s flu season was virtually non-existent, likely because of protective measures in place to slow the spread of COVID-19, such as masks and social distancing. Experts predict the flu will make a comeback this year as more mask mandates are lifted and people return to work and school. With fewer precautions in place, people who have not been exposed to the flu in more than a year may now be more vulnerable. For these reasons, it is especially important to get a flu shot this year.
This year’s vaccine offers protection against four strains of the flu: two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses. The vaccine is not 100-percent effective, but it does reduce the risk of getting the flu by about 40–60 percent, averting millions of illnesses and doctor’s visits as well as thousands of hospitalizations each year. It’s also been shown to reduce the severity of flu symptoms for people who are vaccinated and still get the illness.
Do not wait until flu activity starts to increase in your community to get your flu shot because it will take two weeks to develop antibodies to protect you from the virus. Pregnant women should get a flu shot to protect their child after birth because babies are not eligible for a flu shot until they are six months old.
Many pharmacies, doctors’ offices, and local health centers offer flu vaccines. Flu shots are also available at the ClearChoiceMD Urgent Care at 798 U.S. Route 302 in Berlin for patients over four years old. No appointment is necessary.
Getting vaccinated benefits you and the people around you. The more people in a community who are vaccinated, the less risk of exposure to the flu virus. And don’t forget to keep up with other good hygiene practices: cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough, wash your hands and clean surfaces frequently, avoid close contact with people who are sick, and stay home if you are sick.
Joe Sicard, MPAS, PA-C, is the Director of Clinical Operations at ClearChoiceMD Urgent Care.