Of course we all know people who get the flu, get knocked down for a few days, and then feel better and resume life as usual. And while the flu tends to have more serious side effects in the very young, very old, and those with weakened immune systems, you can’t always predict whom the flu will hit especially hard.
So, the flu is never something to take lightly. It’s a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and even death (especially for children or the elderly). Every flu season is different, but this year’s main strain, H3N2, is particularly vicious. This year’s flu season is responsible for 37 deaths in children so far and is on track to set records for flu-related hospitalization. Having H3N2 in the mix—along with other such flu strains as H1N1 and influenza B, which are common revisitors—can increase your risk of flu-related complications, like pneumonia, even if you’re otherwise healthy.
Your best defense against these flu viruses? Getting the flu shot. (And no, you can’t get the flu from the flu shot.) The flu vaccine helps your immune system develop antibodies that fight the viruses and help keep you healthy. The current vaccine works better against the flu strains influenza B and H1N1 than H3N2, but getting the shot may still reduce your risk of developing the flu by 40 to 60%. And If you do still manage to get sick with the flu, having had the flu shot may help make your illness milder (less call-out-sick days!), and may reduce the risk of flu-associated hospitalization and complications—which is especially important if you have a chronic condition like diabetes or heart disease.
OK, so if we’re mid-flu season, is it too late to get vaccinated? In a word, NO. The flu peaks from December to February, but (unfortunately) it can last until May. When it comes to the flu shot, the earlier you get it, the better, since it takes about 2 weeks to develop those fighter antibodies. Don’t let yourself be vulnerable to the flu for the next five months—get the shot ASAP.