The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October, if possible.Doctors say you definitely want to one before Thanksgiving, when you are likely to see more people, travel and be exposed to more germs. It typically takes about two weeks to build up your immunity once you get the shot.
Predicting the flu this year
For this year, the “crystal ball is very cloudy,” about how bad it will be, but flu season is “not good for anyone,” Schaffner said — especially for the very young, pregnant women, the elderly and people with chronic conditions. All are vulnerable to the worst effects of the flu.
Jernigan said the CDC has increased the number of viruses it tests for and it works with scientists from all around the world to track them. Using sophisticated artificial intelligence and modeling they can characterize where the virus is going and what kind of virus it will be to some extent. But it’s not easy, since the virus changes every year as it moves through the population.
The virus also can change within a season as it moves from country to country. Looking at how bad a flu season was in Australia, which has winter when the United States has its summer, is not necessarily predictive of what the flu season will be like in the US, Jernigan said.
“This virus continues to be elusive,” Jernigan said.”While we don’t have a clear idea, we do know flu is going to be here and the best way to prevent it is to get a vaccine.”
Get your flu vaccine
It’s not a perfect vaccine because there are a number of flu strains that circulate, but it does provide some protection. If you happen to get sick, the vaccine cuts down on how long your symptoms last and it should protect you from the major complications that come with the flu, such as pneumonia.
“What the vaccine does is shift the equation in our favor,” said Schaffner.
The time get the shot is now
“If they are really concerned about the potential for the vaccine to wane over six months, they may want to wait a few weeks but you really don’t want to go beyond middle October or the end of October, because of the risk of exposure to flu in your area,” said Cennimo.
What else can you do to avoid the flu?
There are ways to avoid the flu.
Repeatedly washing your hands can help protect you this flu season. Flu germs tend to linger and hand washing can cut down our exposure.
Avoid friends and family members that are sick.
And for the sake of those around you, stay home from work or school if you are sick. Rest will help you get better and staying home can protect people around you.