With 2019 picking up steam, people who missed out on getting their flu shot over the winter holidays or back in the fall may assume that it's too late to get one and anyway, flu season has probably passed, right? So should you still get a flu shot? Experts warn that the danger of getting sick is on the rise, and say you can still effectively receive the vaccine to protect you against some flu strains.
As Forbes reported, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new stats just before the first of the year showing that the flu is actually on the uptick across the country. So the assumption that some people might have that colds and viruses are on their way out just isn't accurate.
What's more, NBC News reported that the peak of flu season is actually December through February — meaning those first fall colds before Halloween that families — including mine — tend to get are just the warmup to a long, sick season.
And while such preventative measures as hand-washing, getting proper rest, not touching your face, leaving shoes at the door, and using a daily saline rinse can help increase your chances of staying healthy, it's important to understand the way the flu shot, and these nasty germs in general, work.
For starters, "the flu," is rarely just one variation, or strain. Forbes noted this year, 90 percent of cases are testing as H1N1 (yes, the "swine flu" you heard about back in 2009), a less-scary type of the illness, while 10 percent of patients are afflicted with the H3N2 flu, a more serious variety.
Very luckily, this year's vaccine appears to be the right mixture to fight both strains that are circulating, as William Schaffner, MD, infectious disease specialist at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, told Healthline.
The rates of hospitalization are lower this year, potentially indicating that the latest recipe has been effective.
The flu shot isn't always quite as successful year to year, however. Each year's formula is just a careful guess put together by health officials, based on previous data, as CNBC explained — a fact that keeps some skeptics away from getting the shot at their local pharmacy or physician's office.
"We still don’t vaccinate half the population in the United States, which is not good,” Dr. Schaffner told Healthline. "...Like so many things in life, it’s not perfect, but it’s the best that medical science can produce and it’s important people get vaccinated.
Paul Offit, MD, director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, emphasized to CNBC that the average healthy person doesn't realize the flu can be dangerous if not treated promptly.
"[The flu shot] reduce[s] your odds of getting it and lessens your chance of being in the hospital or the morgue," he noted, adding that even when those who got the shot come down with a reaction as a result of the deactivated virus tangoing with your immune system, a mild fever, fatigue or sore arm will result at very worst.
Dr. Schaffner noted that the immune-compromised, elderly, and pregnant women are the first groups who should be vaccinated if they haven't been already. Last year, 900,000 people were hospitalized and about 80,000 died from the flu or its side effects, Healthline added.
In our house, I always drag the kids and myself to the doctor right away come fall for annual flu shots, but sometimes, my husband, left to his own devices, drags on going in.
This year, I simply made him an appointment, meaning he had to keep it. So get all the members of your protected by getting a flu shot right away... it's not too late.