The flu season begins in October and lasts until about May. Most people who get the flu develop it from about late December to early March. Flu vaccination is recommended from about September to mid-November — early vaccination gives your immune system enough time to prepare for exposure to the virus. If you haven’t been vaccinated against the flu yet, it’s not too late — getting vaccinated as late as January can still offer you some protection throughout the next four to five months of the flu season.
However, the CDC has issued a warning that this year, the flu vaccine may not be as effective as it normally is. Does that mean you shouldn’t get it? No — you should still get the flu vaccine if you haven’t already. Most people forget that the flu can be a life-threatening illness, resulting in hospitalization for 200,000 people and death for 36,000 each year. Even though the flu vaccine is expected to be less effective this year than in previous years, it could still offer some protection, and there has always been a chance that the flu vaccine might not protect you from all strains of the flu.
H3N2 Expected to Dominate This Flu Season
According to a recent CDC advisory, this year’s flu shot may not be completely effective against the strain of the flu expected to cause the most infections in the United States this year — namely, influenza A or H3N2. The flu vaccine in use this year entered development back in March, and the H3N2 virus has mutated since then, says the CDC. Making a new vaccine to protect against the mutated strain of the virus wouldn’t be feasible, since it takes at least four months to develop a flu vaccine.
H3N2 is known as a particularly serious strain of the flu, which has been responsible for severe flu seasons in the past. A severe flu season is one that causes more hospitalizations and deaths than usual — H3N2 causes about twice as many hospitalizations and deaths as other strains of the flu.
Since the H3N2 virus has mutated, the current flu vaccine will only protect against about half of the H3N2 strains circulating this year. It will still, however, protect against most strains of H1N1 (swine flu) and influenza B. So the vaccine will still offer some protection — and in any case, most flu vaccines offer only partial protection since flu viruses continue to mutate as they spread through the population over the course of the flu season. Flu shots protect only about 59 percent of those vaccinated on average; the vaccine used last year was considered effective even though it only protected about 55 percent of those vaccinated.
Why You Should Get the Flu Shot
Flu vaccines may not protect against all strains of the flu, but they’re still the most effective way to protect yourself from the flu. Since the flu can be deadly, getting vaccinated could save your life — or the life of someone you love who might be more vulnerable to the infection. Flu shots are recommended for people aged six months to 19 years, pregnant women, and people older than 49 years of age. If you live with or might otherwise come into contact with someone who falls into one of those categories, or who is compromised, you should also get the vaccine.
What to Do If You Get the Flu Anyway
If you get the flu anyway, see your doctor and get a prescription for an antiviral medication like Relenza or Tamiflu. You can save money on your prescription by filling it at CanadaDrugPharmacy.com — use the drugs by condition page to search for Relenza and other antiviral medications used to treat flu, as well as medications that can relieve the symptoms of flu. Seeking treatment is especially important this year, when H3N2 is expected to cause especially dangerous flu infections.
In addition to taking antiviral medications, you should also take steps to prevent the spread of flu to others. Wash your hands frequently and try to avoid contact with others. Stay home and rest as much as possible so your body can recover more quickly. Eat well and get plenty of fluids. Hot liquids like tea and chicken soup won’t do anything to boost your immune system, but they can be comforting, hydrating, and soothing for a sore throat.
While antibiotics cannot kill the flu virus, some people develop a bacterial infection as a complication of the flu. If your symptoms get worse or continue for longer than a week or two, talk to your doctor about whether or not you need antibiotics.
The CDC has released a warning that this year’s flu season may be worse than normal, because the current flu vaccine may not protect against all strains of H3N2, a particularly virulent flu virus. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get vaccinated, however. It also doesn’t mean you should panic — while it’s possible that this flu season might be worse than usual, no one can predict that with any certainty.