While January is a time for new beginnings, it's also right in the middle of flu season, which peaks from December to February. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, flu vaccines are usually first available in October, and flu season can continue right through the warmer months in May.
If you haven't already gotten a flu shot, but you would like to, it's not too late. You can typically get one at your doctor's office, your local health department, urgent care clinics, and possibly at your school, college, or workplace.
Want more specifics? Go to the HealthMap Vaccine Finder. Type in your address or zip code, check off the flu vaccine, and see what is available in a neighborhood near you.
What is the Flu?
When the influenza virus settles into a person's nose, throat and lungs, that person has gotten sick with the flu. The flu can be mild to severe, and the people most likely to fall ill from the flu include young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems, such as those living with congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes.
The flu can also be fatal for thousands of people each year. According to the CDC, people with flu symptoms may have:
- A fever (though not always) or feel hot or very cold
- A cough
- A sore throat
- A stuffy or runny nose
- Aching muscles/body
- Vomiting and diarrhea, more typically seen in kids than adults.
People get sick from the flu when an infected person transfers the virus through sneezing, coughing, or talking to others—who then breathe or inhale it. The virus can also live on the surface of something; someone who touches that surface and then touches his own eyes, mouth or nose can also get sick with the flu, though this is less common.
How to Avoid the Flu
Getting a flu shot offers maximum protection, though basic hygiene measures such as frequent hand-washing with soap and water or, in lieu of that, an alcohol-based sanitizer, can also help you avoid the flu. Keep a healthy distance from those who are sick, and don't share clothing, towels, sheets, silverware or dishes with these people.
Wash items that sick people have come into contact with, including their personal items, linens, cups, dishes, and utensils, clothing, and any other surfaces where the virus may linger, like a countertop, nightstand table, or bathroom.
How A Flu Shot Helps
Every year, the CDC determines which strains of the flu virus believed to be most prevalent, then vaccines are developed to fight those strains. This season, there are flu vaccines that protect against three and four strains of the virus; they are typically delivered through needle in the arm.
A nasal spray that protects against four strains is also available for people aged 2-49, with some exceptions.
Who Should Get A Shot?
The CDC recommends the flu vaccine for:
- Everyone aged 6 months or older, with priority given to children up to four years old
- People aged 50 or older
- Those with chronic illness
- Those with compromised immune systems
- People living in nursing homes and similar facilities
- People who work with young children or in healthcare
- American Indians/Alaska Natives
- Those who are considered morbidly obese
Since the vaccines are developed using eggs, people who have egg or allergies to other ingredients that comprise the vaccine must talk to their doctors about whether a flu shot is right for them. People who have been sick with Guillain-Barre Syndrome or who aren't feeling well must also talk to their doctors about whether or not the shot is recommended.
Health Insurance and Flu Shots?
Flu shots are typically covered by most health insurance plans, and it's important to obtain health insurance through long-term insurance options like ACA-compliant Marketplace plans, Medicaid, or your employer, among others.
Typically, people can make changes to their insurance plans once a year during an Open Enrollment period. If you have missed that time period, you can usually find low cost flu-shots at minute clinics and pharmacies.
Getting sick with the flu can be draining, but it doesn't have to be. Following good health practices and getting an annual flu shot can help you stay as healthy as possible through the entire flu season, year after year.