Now that the holidays are over and spring is nearly on its way, you may be thinking, “Is it worth it to get the flu shot so late in the season?” Or, if you’ve already gotten terribly sick like me, you may be wondering, “Is it even possible to get the flu again?”
The short answer to both: yes.
Flu season begins in October but can extend about as far as late May, with February being the month of peak flu activity, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This means several strains of the flu — Influenza A (H1N1), Influenza A (H3N2) and Influenza B — will still be circulating in the relatively moist air for the next few months.
Also, you may be hearing that this year’s flu is particularly troublesome. That’s partly true and partly false.
The CDC announced Jan. 12 — for the first time in 13 years since its influenza monitoring began — every part of the continental United States exhibited “widespread” flu activity since Jan. 6. This is the first year every part of the country has shown this level of activity at once. However, while the 2017-18 flu does technically qualify for “epidemic” status, it’s important to know the United States nears or reaches epidemic status almost every year, as Dr. Dan Jernigan of the CDC explained in an interview with Time.
The most serious cases in the news you’re hearing about are most likely due to this year’s prevalence of the especially infectious H3 viruses. This strain has caused 30 child deaths so far this season, but it has also claimed the lives of several adults, including 21-year-old bodybuilder Kyler Baughman of Pennsylvania, who died only days after ignoring his symptoms.
While this should not be cause for alarm, it should be cause for action. Even if you’ve gotten the flu once in the season already and muscled through, you can still catch another strain of it — even the H3N2. Getting the flu shot is the best precautionary measure and won’t only protect you but those around you — children too young to receive the vaccine, the elderly and the otherwise immunocompromised.
Here’s what more you need to know about this flu season.
The CDC lists the following symptoms as possible indicators that you may have the flu: fever or chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headache and fatigue or vomiting and diarrhea. The CDC urges you to see your doctor within 48 hours of developing these symptoms, as they may be able to give you antiviral medication to reduce the severity of the illness or shorten its course.
Most with the flu are at peak contagiousness three or four days into the illness, but anyone with the virus can infect others from a day prior to developing symptoms to seven days afterward. If you’ve got the flu, the CDC recommends staying home for at least one day — or until the fever subsides.
While there is currently no universal flu vaccine — one that protects against all strains of the flu — and getting the flu shot doesn’t guarantee you won’t catch it, it’s still an important yearly practice to protect yourself and those around you.
Scientists are now pushing forward to develop such a universal vaccine a hundred years after the deadly Spanish flu pandemic that stretched across the United States. Until then, the best course of action to protect yourself and your neighbors is to take the shot we’ve got.
And remember, although you may be protected from the flu, you are still susceptible to other ailments, including the common cold. If you are feeling ill, it’s important to consult your doctor.