So, you're suddenly on winter's doorstep and haven't yet gotten this year's flu vaccine. You may be wondering if it's too late to get a flu shot. The short answer: definitely not. In fact, it's a better idea than ever.
Every year, millions of Americans suffer from influenza, a largely preventable respiratory infection caused by one or more flu viruses. The condition can be mild, consisting of a cough with a fever and some minor aches -- or it can be life-threatening. The flu shot is the best weapon we have to fight this common but potentially serious illness.
How Does the Flu Shot Work?
Flu shots assist to your body's natural ability to defend itself. Every year, doctors and scientists work to make the best flu vaccine possible. Typically, they start by finding the three or four of the most common flu viruses for that particular season. Then, they expose the viruses to heat until they fall apart. Sometimes, the flu shot contains no virus at all -- instead, it will have proteins that look like pieces of those now-harmless, heat-deactivated flu viruses. Either way, the flu vaccine teaches your body's immune system how to recognize those three or four types of flu. If and when your immune system encounters that year's flu virus, it will know just what to do.
That's why it's not too late to get a flu shot: It teaches your body how to fight these viruses. That simple shot might prevent you from having to take time off of work or making a trip to the hospital. Depending on your age and health, it may even save your life.
Why Every Year?
The flu virus is always trying to get one step ahead of us by changing how it looks to our immune system so that our bodies can't fight it off as effectively. Because there are different flu viruses around every year, it's important to get vaccinated annually. Most people's bodies take a week or two to "learn" from the vaccine -- since flu seasons run from October to as late as May, anytime during those eight months is a good time to get a flu shot.
Everyone older than six months can benefit from a flu shot, but children and the elderly, whose immune systems aren't as robust, might need two vaccines or a stronger type. If you have young children, visit with friends or family over the age of 65, or have loved ones with diseases like cancer, HIV, or diabetes, consider getting vaccinated for their sakes as well as your own. It's not too late for you to get a flu shot to keep yourself and your loved ones healthy this flu season.
How Else Can You Protect Yourself From the Flu?
In addition to getting vaccinated, there are other simple but significant steps to ward off the flu and give your health a boost. Wash your hands frequently, especially before eating. Between hand-washes, avoid touching your face. Clean any commonly used surfaces in your household often.
All of these efforts are a good idea year-round as well as during flu season. These practices will minimize your odds of exposure to all kinds of viruses, not just the flu. Armed with these good habits and this year's vaccine, you can face the rest of flu season worry-free.