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With the arrival of fall, temperatures start to drop, rain clouds gather in the skies and the days get shorter. If we ever thought that summer would last forever, we are just getting a reminder: winter is around the corner, so this is the time of the year to get ready for what’s about to come. By that, we are not just talking about renewing the winter wardrobe but taking the right measures to prevent seasonal health problems.

Commonly known as the ‘flu,’ Influenza wreaks havoc every year in many parts of the world as it keeps a lot of people in bed for several days. Some flu sufferers end up needing medical attention, and, in critical cases, such a disease can even be fatal (especially among patients who are 65 and older). Fortunately, we can draw upon flu vaccines to significantly reduce the odds of contracting this infectious illness. But how does the flu vaccine work? Well, it basically causes antibodies to provide protection against the three main flu viruses: an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus.

1- Why do we need a flu vaccine every year?

Some people who get vaccinated against the flu don’t know that they should do so every year. The reason behind this is that flu viruses constantly change, and, as a result, so does the flu vaccine. Also, the vaccine’s immune response decreases over time, so it needs to be ‘updated’ for optimal protection. Taking this into account, experts recommend that everyone who’s 6 months old and older should get it annually.

2- When should I get vaccinated?

The best period of time to get the flu vaccine is from the end of October until late November. If you need an easier reference, let’s say between Halloween and Thanksgiving Day. Does that mean that if it’s administered before or after this time frame, it won’t work? It depends! If you get vaccinated way too early and the flu season comes late, the vaccine might not be effective. If the virus outbreak occurs earlier than expected and you aren’t protected, you will obviously be at a higher risk of getting sick. For the record, it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in your body, so the flu vaccine doesn’t work right away.

3- Does vaccination provide full protection?

As already pointed out, the flu is so complex that it can even change within one season. In other words, there are times when the viruses in the vaccine do not match all the circulating viruses. Even when that happens, the antibodies resulting from vaccination usually keep other flu-related viruses under control but with lower effectiveness. That’s why, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics, vaccination can lower the risk of contracting the flu by up to 50 or 60%. Factors such as age and overall health can also determine the impact of the virus on your body.

4- Does the flu vaccine have side effects?

If you are concerned about getting the flu out of a flu vaccine, get that idea out of your head since the virus dies before even being included in the vaccine. However, the flu shot can actually trigger minor side effects, including redness and soreness in the area where the shot is given, aches, and low fever.

5- Where can I get a flu vaccine?

The flu vaccine is usually offered in many different locations, from health departments and pharmacies to schools. If you don’t want to pull your hair out trying to decide where to get it, ask your health care provider.

Keep in mind that children and the elderly are the ones at a higher risk and, thus, who need more protection. Let’s not even mention those people with chronic respiratory diseases, for whom the vaccine is key to prevent further complications. By getting the flu shot, not only can you protect yourself from this disease, but you can also prevent pesky ‘collateral damages’ such as sinusitis. As you can see, there’s no reason not to get vaccinated this year.

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