The signs of fall are all around us – orange and red leaves on trees, shorter days with less sunlight and those reminders on television and at your doctor’s office that now is the time to get protected against the flu.
Getting the annual flu vaccine should be at the top of the to-do list of everyone ages 6 months and older, according to Randell Wexler, MD
, a family medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
“Thousands of people still die from the flu and flu-related complications each year,” Wexler says. “People with chronic diseases such as asthma, COPD, diabetes and heart disease are at greater risk.”
This year, there are two major types of flu shots: the three-component trivalent vaccine and the four-component quadrivalent vaccine. The trivalent vaccine protects against three strains of the flu:
- A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1) pdm09-like virus
- A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 (H3N2)-like virus
- B/Brisbane/60/2008-like (B/Victoria lineage) virus
The quadrivalent vaccine includes those three strains, as well as a B/Phuket/3073/2013-like (B/Yamagata lineage) virus.
“These are believed to be the predominant flu strains that will be out this winter,” Wexler says.
He recommends getting the flu shot by the end of October to be protected through March.
“It takes about two weeks for the flu shot to be maximally effective and it lasts five to six months,” he says. “If you get it too early, you may have some exposure towards the end of the flu season.”
If you’re not a fan of shots, there are a few ways to make the experience more pleasant.
- Distraction: Listen to music or read a book so you’re not focused on the shot.
- Topical Medications: Creams can be applied to numb the area before the injection.
- Skin Pressure: Rub and apply pressure to the injection site to desensitize the area so the body reacts less when you’re given the shot.
- Mindfulness: Try not to focus on your vaccination appointment. Spending all day thinking about getting the shot doesn’t help.
Wexler also advises to limit your exposure to sick people and wash your hands regularly.
“Your risk depends on your exposure to sick people you come in contact with,” he says. “People should be immunized; it’s a public health issue.”