According to data from the Oregon Health Authority, Oregon’s flu season typically starts ramping up in December and peaks between February and March. The number of cases usually quickly declines during the month of April.
“Flu shots are the best way to protect yourself against influenza,” said Adam Brady, MD, from Samaritan Infectious Disease in Corvallis. “In general we recommend getting the vaccine during the month of October to get the best protection throughout the flu season.”
With any vaccine, including the flu, immunity slowly decreases over time. Although flu shots are sometimes advertised as early as August, Brady cautions against receiving the vaccine before September. Getting the shot too early can mean reduced protection toward the end of flu season.
Fortunately it’s almost never too late to get the vaccine. If your busy schedule means you haven’t had the chance yet, Brady notes that it’s still helpful to get the flu shot, even into January or later.
How Bad Is the Flu, Really?The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 23,607 people die of influenza every year on average, and there are more than 200,000 hospitalizations annually. Death and hospitalization are more common in older adults over the age of 65, children under the age of 5, pregnant women, and people with certain medical conditions that make them vulnerable to infection.
“The flu is more serious in older people, pregnant women and young children but hospitalization and lost time from work are very real for anyone,” said Brady. “Just because the flu is common that doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous.”
The CDC recommends everyone six months of age and older receive a flu shot every year. Even if you are a healthy adult, getting a flu shot can protect yourself and others if you are around children or seniors regularly.
What to Expect After a ShotSince the flu shot does not contain live flu virus it is impossible to get the flu from a flu shot, but Brady notes that some people experience side effects that are similar to flu symptoms. These include a low grade fever, general aches and pains, and redness or swelling at the injection site.
It takes about two weeks to develop full immunity after a flu shot, so it is also possible to be exposed to the flu and become sick before the shot is completely effective.
Additionally, a flu shot isn’t 100% effective against the flu because there are many strains of the virus. According to the CDC, getting the flu vaccine can reduce your chance of getting the illness by 40 to 60% when the vaccine is well matched to the strain of flu. Getting a flu shot can also reduce the severity of illness even if you do get sick.
Upcoming Season PredictionsEvery year the flu vaccine is updated to protect against the strains of the virus that authorities predict will be the most common, usually three or four variants.
“It is difficult to predict which strains will be the most common and how effective the vaccine will be, but even partial protection is better than no protection,” said Brady.
Protect Yourself From FluIn addition to a flu shot, the CDC recommends these tips to help prevent the flu:
- Avoid contact with people who are sick.
- If you are sick, stay home from school or work to avoid infecting others. Stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without fever-reducing medicine.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the used tissue in the trash and wash your hands.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water throughout the day or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects (door handles, computer keyboard, cell phone) that may be contaminated with germs.