The best way to protect against the flu is to get vaccinated every year. The ideal time to get vaccinated is usually October or November, before flu season begins; however getting a flu shot later may still provide protection since flu season typically peaks in January and last through about March.
Emergency physicians highly recommend that persons who are at high risk of having serious flu complications and people who live with or care for high flu-risk individuals (including home caregivers and health care workers) get vaccinated each year. Persons in high-risk groups include:
- Children six months old through age five.
- Pregnant women.
- Persons age 50 and older.
- Persons with chronic medical conditions.
- Persons in nursing homes and long-term care facilities.
The flu vaccine is generally available beginning in October and is distributed through health care providers, in-store clinics, schools and many places of employment. Check with your physician, your local government or community services center. Getting a flu shot can reduce most people’s chances of catching the flu by up to 80 percent during flu season. It isn’t a guarantee against getting sick, though —mainly because there are many viruses that can cause the flu, and the vaccine only protects against a handful of them. However, among those persons who do get the flu after receiving the flu shot, symptoms usually will be milder. (It should be noted that the seasonal flu shot does not offer protection against avian (or bird) flu, and it also would not be effective in the event of pandemic flu, a virulent human influenza that causes a global outbreak of serious illness and to which there is little natural immunity.)