To Your Health: Get your flu shot!

The events and parties of the holiday season are upon us. But there’s a dark side to all the fun and festivities: the flu. December is the beginning of peak flu season throughout the country. As we rub shoulders and shake hands with each other, an invisible menace, a flu virus, might make its way into our bodies.
That’s why getting a flu vaccine as soon as you can is so important. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) it takes about two weeks after vaccination for the flu antibodies to develop, so it’s best to get vaccinated early in the fall. But even if you get vaccinated as late as January, the vaccine can still help you avoid falling ill.
Last year was a particularly deadly flu season. The CDC recorded more than 80,000 flu-related deaths in the U.S. last winter. Nine out of 10 of those deaths were people 65 years old or older, but the flu also killed 180 young children and teenagers. Despite the fact that the flu vaccine minimizes the risk of contracting the flu, the CDC estimated that only 37.1% of adults 18 or older were vaccinated last year, a drop of 6.2 % from the previous year.
The effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies each year principally because drug manufacturers are making the vaccine six months before the flu season begins. CDC scientists evaluate flu strains erupting in other parts of the world and, based on a variety of factors, estimate which strains will eventually turn up in the U.S. during the winter. But the flu virus is a tricky creature. It has the ability to take bits of the genetic make-up of the organisms it infects, such as chickens, pigs or people, and add it to its own DNA or RNA. As it moves through different populations, the flu virus mutates. By the time it gets to Maine, it may be a slightly different virus than what the CDC thought it would be six months earlier. Still, the CDC cites recent studies that show the flu vaccine typically reduces the risk of getting the flu by about 40% to 60% among the overall population.
Until a few years ago, a typical flu shot included three strains of the virus: two strains of influenza A, one of influenza B. Now, manufacturers are adding a second B strain to create a vaccine that provides more protection.
The type of shot you get is generally based on your age. Older people often have weaker immune responses to the vaccine, so experts suggest those 65 and older get either a high-dose shot, which has four times the regular dosage, or a shot with adjuvant, an ingredient that boosts immune response.
Most people with health insurance that complies with the Affordable Care Act are entitled to a flu shot without a co-payment or coinsurance, but be sure to check with your insurer on the specifics. People on Medicare receive no-cost flu shots through Part B. Medicaid covers flu shots for children and young adults through age 20. Adults eligible for Medicaid are also generally covered.
The peak of reported flu cases in the country generally occurs between December and February, although last year outbreaks continued into May. The CDC monitors certain key indicators across the country, such as flu hospitalizations, laboratory results, and deaths, to keep track of the illness’s progress. When these indicators rise and remain elevated for a few weeks, flu season has started.
In addition to getting a flu shot, you can take some simple actions to keep yourself healthy. The first is to wash your hands frequently during the winter months. If you can, stay away from sick people. And if you do come down with the flu, stay home! You do no one any favors by arriving at work or school coughing and sneezing and spreading the virus in the air.