With unseasonably warm weather bathing the northeast in a sense of summery security, it’s been hard to imagine that the winter flu season is already upon us. However, October through March is the official period when influenza strikes most, well, virulently.
“You should get your flu shot as early as you can,” warns Boston-based CVS pharmacist Minh Do, pharmD. “That allows your immune system time to build up antibodies.” Your body makes these proteins to fight bacteria and diseases.
It takes approximately 14 days for flu shots to become effective, so if you happen to catch the bug right after your shot, it’s not because of the vaccine itself.
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“You are not instantly protected right when you get the flu shot,” Do continues. “You can never, ever get the flu virus from the flu shot. You might have already gotten the flu, but you may not have exhibited the symptoms until a few days later.”
The World Health Organization has predicted that this season’s strain will be the same as last winter’s, but that doesn’t mean that last year’s shot is still good.
“Flu shots have a lifespan of four to six months. You need to get another one this year,” says Do.
The standard flu shot also includes immunization against the H1N1 (so-called “swine flu”) virus, but it won’t protect against other yet-unknown flu strains.
“The WHO tries to predict the seasonal flu vaccine for the upcoming season, so it takes about six months to produce the appropriate vaccine based on the research of thousands of strains out there,” Do says. “The WHO recommends which three flu viruses to be included in the seasonal flu vaccine to the FDA, and then the FDA determines which vaccine goes into production, which takes six months.
In the next few months they’ll be predicting the next flu strains for the upcoming 2012 season. So it’s a long, long process.”
Who’s at risk?
Do says the vaccine “is the best way to protect yourself against the flu virus, particularly for people who are more vulnerable.” Those most vulnerable to getting the virus include:
Anyone with a weakened immune system
Children under six
Pregnant women and their husbands
Elderly people over 65
The flu’s impact
According to Walgreens, last flu season, many Americans’ social lives were interrupted by the flu:
More than 600,000 graduations were missed
More than 1 million weddings weren’t attended
Nearly 5 million holiday celebrations were missed
More than 3 million vacations were changed
More than 5 million sporting events were missed