With these colder fall mornings, signs are reappearing at our drug stores, doctors’ offices and hospitals — it’s time to start preparing for flu season. Although the most infections typically occur in January and February, flu season runs from October through May — so it’s smart to get vaccinated early in order to stay healthy this fall.
“If you want to stay well, not miss work or play, you need to get a flu shot,” said Dr. Michael Parry, director of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology at .
As of 2010, the flu shot is recommended for everyone over the age of six months. It is particularly important for people in risk groups or with close contact with people in risk groups.
“Its really important that children are vaccinated as soon as they’re able — they’re often in school or a daycare around lots of other children,” said Dr. Wanda Olayiwola, chief medical officer at Community Health Center.
Groups particularly at risk for complications from the flu include children, people over the age of 65, pregnant women, and people with health conditions including heart, lung, or kidney disease or a weakened immune system.
Along with getting vaccinated, it is important to be vigilant about hand washing during flu season, particularly in public places. Some doctors recommend taking vitamin C and vitamin D during flu season to help the immune system in the winter months. Additionally, smokers are more likely to get the flu and to get sicker than non-smokers.
“If you smoke you are more susceptible — it’s not too late to quit,” Parry said.
While it’s impossible to predict just what a flu season will be like in advance, there are plenty of people out there trying to do just that every year.
“Looking at the southern hemisphere and their winter, we can expect an active year, but not overwhelming. We expect a mix of strains,” Parry said. “H1N1 will still be a player this year. Last year, we had more cases of H1N1 than seasonal flu, whether we’ll see that again this year, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
This year’s flu vaccine includes an A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)-like virus, an A/Perth/16/2009 (H3N2)-like virus; and a B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus. Shipments of the vaccine began in August and will continue throughout September and October.
The vaccine is available primarily in two ways — an inactivated vaccine delivered as a shot injected with a needle and a live (but weakened) vaccine delivered as a nasal spray. The nasal spray is recommended only for healthy people between the ages of two and 49 who are not pregnant.
”The nasal spray is a hit with children that are afraid of needles, actually, adults who are afraid of needles too,” Olayiwola said.
A high-dose vaccine, launched last year, will be available again this flu season and is recommended for some people over the age of 65 who need a larger amount of vaccine in order to be protected.
This year also marks the launch of a new intradermal vaccine. While this method of receiving a flu shot is no more effective than a traditional shot, it is virtually painless and may be more accessible to people whose fear of needles has prevented them from getting vaccinated in the past.
“It’s a very small needle and goes in very shallow — we’re going to give it a try for some of our employees and see how it goes this year,” Parry said. “It could really change the way we do this in the future.”
It takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to take effect and vaccination lasts for about one year. Since the flu shot changes each year, it is important to get vaccinated again every fall.
While allergic reactions to the flu shot are rare, it is important to let your doctor know if you have any severe allergies, particularly to eggs. Speak up if you’ve ever had a severe reaction to a flu shot in the past or if you’ve ever had Guillain-Barre syndrome.
“Prepare for flu season as you’d prepare for any health problem,” Olayiwola said. “Know how and where to get vaccinated and follow all the precautions for any communicable disease.”
Every town in our area offers several options for getting vaccinated. Flu shots are available at many retail locations including , Walmart, and where flu shots are $29.99. While most national and regional health insurance plans cover some or all of the cost, CVS is offering uninsured people a $5 CVS gift card when they get vaccinated.
Many hospitals, health centers, and doctors’ offices begin to give flu shots during the last week of September and will continue throughout flu season while supplies of the vaccine are available.
community flu clinics began on Thursday and will be held at multiple times and locations through October.
Stamford Hospital will launch their Fight the Flu campaign at on Tuesday.
Residents of Westport and Weston can make an appointment online to receive a flu shot from the Westport Weston Health District.
will offer flu clinics in Ridgefield, Redding, and Wilton at various times and locations now through December.
Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County will give flu shots at , , and with dates throughout the fall months. The will offer flu clinics at various locations in the community through October. (See PDF files for additional information.)