The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. Even the healthiest of people who come down with the flu can be sick for two weeks or longer. It can cause pneumonia or aggravate an existing chronic disease, and serious cases can lead to a hospital stay—or even death.
The flu can begin circulating by October in the U.S., but peak activity typically occurs in January. Though flu cases often decline by spring, the flu season can continue into May.
Although the flu vaccine doesn't provide 100 percent protection from the virus, it is still the best way to protect yourself from the flu. Even if the viruses in the vaccine don't match the circulating virus, it can still protect you and prevent flu-related complications.
The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends that everyone over the age of 6 months old get vaccinated against the flu every year, with rare exception. The vaccine is especially important for infants, children, the elderly and people with certain chronic diseases, as these groups are at high risk for flu-related complications.
If you're still on the fence, here are a few more reasons why it matters to get your flu shot every flu season:
- The antibodies provided by last season's flu vaccine have weakened and are no longer providing the best protection. Additionally, last season's vaccine may not protect you from this season's flu virus, because circulating flu viruses can differ from season to season.
- Getting your flu shot doesn't just protect you, it also protects the people to whom you could infect with the virus, including those who are vulnerable to flu-related complications.
- The vaccine can reduce flu-related hospitalizations by as much as 74 percent for children and 57 percent for people age 50 and older.
- The vaccine protects women during pregnancy and continues to protect the baby for up to four months after birth.
Though mild side effects can occur, the vaccine cannot give you the flu. It takes about two weeks for it to begin protecting you from the virus, so it's a good idea to get your flu shot as soon as it's available, preferably before the flu begins to spread through your community.
Contact your primary care doctor, local pharmacy or local health department to learn how your family can get vaccinated.