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The Flu Shot - What You Need and Why You Need It

As Halloween approaches, healthcare organizations across the nation are encouraging patients to get their annual flu shots before the end of October. We reached out to Giselle Grimes, infectious disease specialist at Memorial Hospital of Converse County, for some advice, some information, and why we need that flu shot every year.

"Prevention is key," began Grimes, "The best way to prevent the flu is to get immunized."

Immunization means, yep, you guessed it, a flu shot. The flu shots can change from year to year, and according to the CDC: "The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. Traditional flu vaccines (called "trivalent" vaccines) are made to protect against three flu viruses; an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus. There are also flu vaccines to protect against four flu viruses (called "quadrivalent" vaccines). These vaccines protect against the same viruses as the trivalent vaccine and an additional B virus."

The vaccine should be readily available throughout Converse County. The three-component Flu vaccine protects against:

  • A/California/7/2009 pdm09-like virus.
  • A/HongKong/4801/2014 (H3N2)-like virus.
  • B/Brisbane/60/2008-like virus (B/Victoria lineage).

The 4 component vaccines include the three viruses above, plus an additional B virus called B/Phuket/3073/2013-like virus (B/Yamagata lineage).

Getting an annual flu vaccine is the first and best way to protect yourself and your family from the flu. Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors' visits, and missed work and school due to flu and prevent flu-related hospitalizations - all the more important in a year marked by COVID-19. Increasing the number of people who get vaccinated each year helps protect more people, including older people, very young children, and people with certain health conditions who are more vulnerable to serious flu complications.

You may stop and think, "Hey, I got one of these last year, do I have to get another?" And the simple answer is: yes, yes you do. And the sooner, the better. Most healthcare providers recommend getting your flu shot before the end of October.

A flu vaccine is needed every season for two reasons: First, the body's immune response from vaccination declines over time, so an annual vaccine is required for optimal protection. And second, because the flu viruses themselves are continually changing. The flu vaccine formulation is reviewed each year by the CDC and is sometimes updated to keep up with changing flu viruses. As well, make it a family affair: for the best protection, everyone six months and older should get vaccinated annually.

It would be best if you got a flu vaccine before the flu begins spreading in our community. Of note: it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body that protects against flu, so make plans to get vaccinated asap, before flu season begins in earnest. The CDC recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October, if possible. However, getting vaccinated later can still be beneficial, and vaccination should continue to be offered throughout the flu season, even into January or later.

What do you hope to avoid contracting influenza? A whole host of trouble. Influenza can cause:

  • Severe aches in muscles and joints
  • Pain and tiredness around your eyes
  • Weakness or extreme fatigue
  • Warm, flushed skin and red, watery eyes
  • A headache
  • A dry cough
  • A sore throat and runny nose

More severe symptoms include:

  • Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in your chest or belly
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe vomiting

And yes, it can cause hospitalization and possibly even death. According to the CDC: 36,000 people die annually, and more than 200,000 are hospitalized each year because of the flu. Those most at risk include the elderly and young children.

"The flu can have very serious consequences," concluded Grimes. "So get immunized to protect your family and protect your community."

The flu shot is available at the Converse County Health Department, Pharmacies in the area, and of course, via your provider at Memorial Hospital of Converse County. No matter which you choose, be sure to get one to avoid influenza however possible this season!