It's that time of year, when posters line the walls of drug stores asking if you've gotten your annual flu shot yet. The official season typically begins in October and lasts through May, so now is the perfect time for you and the rest of your family to get the inoculation.
For many people, getting the yearly vaccination is a no-brainer, especially for those who work in settings where they come into contact with many people - be it through a hand shake or an uncovered cough. For instance, corporate offices and schools are breeding grounds for the flu. Germs and viruses are everywhere, so people need some additional encouragement to take precautionary steps.
"Vaccination is one of the single most important things one can do to protect themselves from getting the flu," Tom Skinner, a spokesman the CDC, told Newsday. "Especially individuals who are at high risk from the serious consequences from the flu - children, the elderly, people with underlying health conditions. We want to make sure they get vaccinated."
What is it?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that every individual who is at least 6 months of age receive the flu shot every year. Older adults, young children and women going through pregnancy are considered high-risk populations who may significantly benefit from the vaccination. This is because their immune systems are more susceptible, and pregnant women risk jeopardizing the health of their baby if they get sick.
The immunization comes in three forms - intramuscular, intradermal and nasal spray - and protects against the strains of influenza that scientists predicted the previous year would be the most abundant. This year, the vaccine includes the swine flu or H1N1 virus, as well as two others, as reported by Newsday. The reason that this changes annually is because the influenza virus mutates, and the vaccine developed the year before won't necessarily work for the next.
"You never know what kind of flu season you are going to see," Adam Lerche, M.D., a pediatrician at Bardonia Pediatrics, told the news source. "Just because you had a mild year one year doesn't mean it'll be the same the next year."
What's holding you back?
Some individuals are worried that they may actually get the flu from the vaccine, since it contains traces of the viruses. However, this is not true.
In addition, not matter how logical it may seem, you cannot get swine flu by eating bacon, according to WebMD.
Another common misconception is that if you get sick once during the flu season, you won't again until the next year. This is because you may be affected by different strains at different points throughout the winter.
Other things to help you stay flu free
As tedious as it may be, washing your hands is one of the best ways to stay healthy. Just think about how many times you touch your keyboard or a doorknob and then rub your face with your hands. A little warm water and soap can go a long way, but in general, it's a good rule of thumb to avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
If you recognize flu-like symptoms, such as a fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue, you should avoid as much contact with other people as you can to prevent further transmission of the virus. Also, take time to let your body rest so you can recover as quickly as possible.
Do you get a flu shot every year and why? Have you ever gotten the flu while pregnant? Leave your answers in the comments section!