Get your flu shot and have a happier, healthier winter

Who should get a flu shot this fall? According to the CDC, everyone age 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine each year. This recommendation has been in place since February 2010 when CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted for “universal” flu vaccination in the U.S. to expand protection against the flu to more people.

While everyone should get a flu vaccine each flu season, it’s especially important that people with disabilities and others in high-risk groups get vaccinated either because they are at risk of having serious flu–related complications.

Pregnant women, children younger than age five, people 50 years or older, people with chronic medical conditions and people who live in nursing homes and other long–term care facilities need an annual flu shot. So do people who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including health care workers, household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu, Household contacts and out-of-home caregivers of children less than six months of age. These children are too young to be vaccinated.

Many of us saw the flu shot reminder signs going up around Labor Day. Flu vaccine shipments began in August and will continue throughout September and October until all vaccine is distributed. Doctors and nurses are encouraged to begin vaccinating their patients as soon as flu vaccine is available in their areas. See your doctor or nurse to get the flu vaccine, or seek out other locations where vaccine is being offered.

Flu vaccines are designed to protect against the three influenza viruses that experts predict will be the most common during the upcoming season. Each season, this includes an influenza B virus, an influenza A (H1N1) virus and an influenza A (H3N2) virus.

The 2011–12 influenza Vaccine can protect you from getting sick from these three viruses, or it can make your illness milder if you get a related but different influenza virus strain.

The CDC recommends an influenza vaccine every year as the first and best way to protect against getting the flu. By two weeks after vaccination, the body develops antibodies to protect against the viruses in the vaccine. Those antibodies help protect people from influenza viruses if they come in contact with them later.

However multiple studies conducted over different seasons and across vaccine types and influenza virus subtypes have shown that the body’s immunity to influenza viruses (acquired either through natural infection or vaccination) declines over time. The decline in antibodies is influenced by several factors, including a person’s age, the antigen used in the vaccine, and the person’s general health. For example, certain chronic health conditions may have an impact on immunity. Even if a person got vaccinated last year, the level of immunity from a vaccine received last season is expected to have declined.

For information on flu shots, ask your health care provider or your city or county health department.

One good source of information in Minnesota is www.health.state.mn.us/divs/idepc/diseases/flu/index.html   

For detailed information on flu, go to www.cdc.gov/Features/FLU/