“This is the time of year when the flu starts to ramp up with more people contracting the virus,” says Lisa Maragakis, M.D., M.P.H, senior director of infection prevention for the Johns Hopkins Health System and associate professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “By ensuring you and your loved ones get a flu vaccine now, you will be ready for the season.”
Influenza, or the flu, is a contagious viral respiratory illness caused by different strains of the influenza virus and spread through coughing, sneezing or close contact with an infected person. Symptoms can vary from person to person, but generally include coughing, congestion, sore throat, headache, muscle or joint aches and fatigue.
The severity of the flu ranges from mild to severe cases that can lead to hospitalization or even death. Estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggest that last season as many as about 650,000 people were hospitalized and up to more than 60,000 people died from the flu.
The flu vaccine is updated each year in an attempt to match virus strains predicted to predominate in the upcoming flu season. “Even if the vaccine doesn’t perfectly match circulating flu strains, it can still limit the severity and duration of the illness,” Maragakis says.
Once you get the vaccine, it takes about two weeks to develop antibodies against influenza. People who are allergic to components of the vaccine should consult their physician to find a vaccine formula suitable for them.
“The flu vaccine is like wearing a seat belt,” says Aaron Milstone, M.D., associate hospital epidemiologist for The Johns Hopkins Hospital and professor of pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “You wear a seat belt to prevent injury in case of an accident; you get a flu vaccine, so when you get exposed to someone with the flu, you don’t get sick. It has the added benefit of protecting other people around you from getting the flu as well.”
Other ways to help guard against the flu include coughing into the crook of your elbow and thoroughly washing your hands.
Flu season in the U.S. typically runs October through May, peaking sometime between December and February.
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