If you’ve been putting off getting the flu vaccine, this news may give you a shot in the arm: This season’s flu epidemic is worsening, according to federal health officials, with increasing numbers of hospitalizations and deaths being reported.
The season hasn’t peaked yet, though, so there’s still time for a shot to protect you. Health officials say it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to take effect.
Currently, 37 states are now reporting widespread flu activity, with New York City and 10 states reporting a high level of activity.
The type that’s causing most of the flu cases is influenza A (caused by the H3N2 strain), a more serious form that’s particularly bad for older people and very young children, according to William Schaffner, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn.
Eight children have died so far this season — including three this month — and more than 4,300 people have been hospitalized, most of them adults age 50 and older, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports. Among the hospitalizations, nearly 93 percent were from influenza A.
"We probably haven't seen H3N2 peak yet,” Lynnette Brammer, an epidemiologist at the CDC, told HealthDay News.
This year’s vaccine covers all the circulating viruses, including the H3N2 strain, Brammer said. And while the shot can’t offer 100 percent protection, even if you do get sick, studies show that those who have been vaccinated tend to get a milder case and are less likely to be hospitalized. Getting the shot also cuts your chances of spreading the illness to babies or the elderly.
Which flu vaccine is best for you? Here’s the latest advice:
- There are two types of vaccines aimed at those age 65+. One is a high-dose shot that protects against four strains of flu. There is also a new “adjuvant” version, designed to increase the shot’s effectiveness by boosting the body’s immune system. People 65 and older can also get the standard shot.
- The nasal-spray flu vaccine is no longer recommended for people of any age. You need to get a shot.
- A flu shot cannot make you sick. It’s made with inactivated viruses that are not contagious. Mild side effects may include a headache, low-grade temp or achy muscles afterward.
- Getting your shot in the morning increases its effectiveness. A 2016 British study found that those who were vaccinated between 9 and 11 a.m. had a higher blood level of anti-influenza antibodies than those who waited until the late afternoon.