Doctors at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine say everyone 6 months of age and older should get vaccinated against the influenza virus this year.
Each year, vaccines for the Northern Hemisphere are designed based on an analysis of spreading strains in the Southern Hemisphere. “When the predictions about which flu strains will circulate are accurate, the flu vaccine offers excellent protection from disease,” says Lisa Maragakis, senior director of infection prevention for the Johns Hopkins Health System. “Even when there is some degree of mismatch between the vaccine and circulating flu strains, influenza vaccination offers some protection and can lessen the severity of disease if people do become ill with the flu.”
Influenza is a serious respiratory illness that can affect children and adults, regardless of pre-existing health concerns. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, thousands of people die of influenza every season, and hundreds of thousands are hospitalized. The flu can also lead to complications like pneumonia, ear and sinus infections, or worsening of chronic medical conditions.
Symptoms, which typically begin one to four days after a person becomes infected, include coughing, runny nose, sore throat, headache, muscle or joint aches, and fatigue. The flu can spread through droplets transmitted during coughing, sneezing or even talking. You may also get the flu by touching a surface or object with the virus on it.
Washing hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is important, but Johns Hopkins doctors say getting the flu vaccine is one of the best ways to protect yourself against the virus. “The flu virus changes slightly from year to year, so it’s important to be vaccinated each year to prepare for the flu season,” Maragakis says. “Receiving the flu vaccine protects not only yourself but also other people around you, including patients, family members, friends and colleagues.”
Even if you have an allergy to a component in the flu vaccine, it’s still possible to receive the vaccine. “There are vaccine options available specifically for people with allergies to eggs or another ingredient in the vaccine,” Maragakis says. “It’s important for these people to consult with their physician to find the right vaccine formulation for them.”
Flu season typically runs through May, but it peaks in the U.S. between December and February. Once you get the vaccine, it takes about two weeks to develop antibodies against influenza.