Healthy Living: October 2, 2018

BANGOR, Maine (WABI) – Influenza is the virus that causes “the flu” and the start of “flu season” is upon us. Last years’ flu season was brutal and deadly, with record numbers of persons hospitalized and killed because of this infection. Flu season is generally considered to be between October and May. Vaccination – also known as the “flu shot”- is the best protection there is against contracting influenza.

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The usual recommendation is to receive your vaccine by Halloween if possible. Influenza was already identified in Maine as of early September; so the sooner certainly would be the better, especially keeping in mind it takes a couple weeks for the full protective effect to develop. The severity and strains of the virus that circulate are constantly changing which is why the shot needs to be administered yearly. Since the influenza viruses rapidly change the vaccine must be annually updated to try and match these changes.

These ongoing changes are also why the vaccine is never 100% effective against getting the flu. However, if you do get the flu despite vaccination it will very likely be less severe and shorter than if you were not vaccinated. A 2017 study in children showed that children with influenza who had received the vaccinations were much less likely to die from the infection than those who contracted influenza and were not vaccinated.

These findings reinforce previous studies on adults. There are certainly groups more at risk for the complications of influenza: the very young, the old, pregnant women, those with lung or heart problems and children with neurological disorders. However it is important to remember that ANYONE can develop complications or even die from influenza; including perfectly healthy people. This is why it has been recommended for many years that everyone over 6 months of age be vaccinated. Also, be mindful that babies and people who are unable to receive the vaccine for other reasons are best protected by the rest of us being immunized. Indeed their only protection is that the populations that can get the flu shot do so, to decrease the amount of influenza in the community. So please get the flu shot for yourself and others. Though you may not see it, I do, and lives literally depend on it.

References:
1. MaineCDC/MaineFlu.gov
2. US CDC- Influenza

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