Is it too early to get the flu shot?

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RICHMOND, Va. — After seeing record numbers of flu cases nationwide and here at home, the Virginia Department of Health is urging people to get their flu shot.

Flu season begins in October and can last through May. Usually, we see a peak in cases around the holidays and in January, but this is the time health officials want you to prepare.

“We always encourage people to get vaccinated and try to get vaccinated by the end of October. You do have to give two weeks to build immunity after you’ve gotten the flu vaccine,” Christy Gray, the Director of the Division of Immunization at the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) said.

Dozens of people got their flu shot on Wednesday, after hearing from Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey and State Health Commissioner Norman Oliver.

“It only takes one person to decrease the whole community’s immunity,” Secretary Carey said.

The main line of defense from the flu is the vaccine. A new one is developed every year, adapting to how the virus evolves each year. The vaccines available this year cover three or four strains of the illness.  

Last year was particularly bad for the flu. Gray says it was higher than it had been in a decade, since the pandemic with H1N1, also known as swine flu.

There were over 200 suspected outbreaks reported to the health department during the 2017-18 flu season. Of those, about 60 percent of them turned out to be the flu. Central Virginia had the greatest number of outbreaks reported at 66, while the southwest region had the greatest percent of outbreaks confirmed as the flu.

Nationwide it was also serious.

“A record number of children died from influenza last season with 172 children dying according to the Centers for Disease Control. Approximately 80 percent of those deaths occurred in children who did not receive the flu vaccine,” Carey said.

In Virginia, Six influenza-associated pediatric deaths were reported in the 2017-18 flu season.

Gray suggests if you have questions about vaccinating your child, talk to your pediatrician.

“Please reach out to your doctor about why it’s important for your child to get the vaccine. Also, why it’s important to make sure that people around your child are getting the flu vaccine for protection in case your child does not respond with the level of immunity it would be to keep him or her from getting sick,” Gray said. “So, it’s not only important that they’re getting vaccination but around them are getting vaccinated.”

In order to keep your family safe, here are some of the symptoms to look out for. If you catch the flu, you’ll develop a high fever, feel body aches, have a runny nose and cough.

“You feel really sluggish, you feel like you got hit by a bus,” Gray said. “It’s not the same as a common cold where you can definitely feel it, but you can keep going throughout the day.”

Be sure to keep washing your hands during flu season and cover your mouth when you cough. If you do get sick, stay home and try not to be near people who are sick.  

Click here for more resources from the Virginia Department of Health. 

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