Health Column: Still time to get your flu shot

(Credit: USACE Europe District, Flickr)
(Credit: USACE Europe District, Flickr)

If you haven’t gotten your annual flu shot yet, it’s not too late.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 6 months and older get the seasonal vaccine to protect yourself and those around you. 

Dr. Saul Hymes, who specializes in pediatric infectious disease at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, said the medical center has yet to see its usual uptick of flu patients, though that will likely change in the coming weeks.

“People should get vaccinated as soon as they can,” he said, noting that October is the ideal time to get vaccinated.

According to the CDC, the flu virus is spread through droplets that are created when people who have the flu cough, sneeze or talk. The droplets can spread up to six feet away and find their way into the mouths and noses of people nearby. They can also be picked up from surfaces, so remember to wash your hands before touching your eyes or face.

Infections can spread one day before symptoms develop and up to seven days after you become sick, the agency notes.

While new flu viruses are constantly being discovered, the vaccine protects against the three or four strains research suggests are most common during any given season, Dr. Hymes explained.

The World Health Organization combines research from influenza centers in more than 100 countries to help the U.S. Food and Drug Administration determine which strains to feature in the vaccine each year.

This year’s vaccine protects against the same strains as last year’s, Dr. Hymes said.

“Next year, there will be changes based on the other strains that seem to be circulating in the world,” he said.

Dr. Hymes took a few minutes to set straight the truth about the flu shot, since a number of myths circulate about it.

While Dr. Hymes said there is an understanding that the aging population should receive the vaccine annually, he has seen a disconnect among parents who are unaware their children should also be vaccinated.

“Kids who have underlying respiratory issues, such as asthma, are at increased risk for flu complications,” Dr. Hymes warned. “Anyone with any sort of lung problems or issues that impair their immunity should get vaccinated if they can.”

He said he often hears the reply, “I don’t want to get the shot because every time I get it, I get the flu.”

“The shot does not give you the flu,” Dr. Hymes said. “That is the most common of the myths.”

He said that while the vaccination may result in some soreness at the injection sight, or a runny nose or slight fever for a day or so, “Those symptoms are mild in comparison to contracting the actual flu.”

He did admit that “Sometimes the scientists guess wrong,” as flu strains not contained in the vaccine still have the potential to make people who already been immunized ill.

Want to get vaccinated? Peconic Bay Medical Center will host a free flu vaccine clinic Monday, Dec. 1, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Vaccines are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Got a health question or column idea? Email Carrie Miller at [email protected]