The influenza virus is present in our communities all year round – but there are times when its activity spikes. Flu season is typically considered to be during the fall and winter months each year, as people spend more time indoors.
Health officials track flu activity constantly. Data indicates cases of the seasonal flu begin to rise in October each fall, with peaks in cases of the flu typically occurring in December, January and February. This pattern repeats itself each year, which is why public health experts advise it’s best to get the flu shot in September or October. Getting the flu shot before cases begin to rise gives the body enough time to build up immunity – which can help prevent the spread of the virus and protect individuals in our communities who are vulnerable to severe illness. Experts say the boost in immunity from flu shots lasts about six months.
For most people, the flu virus may cause mild respiratory illness with symptoms of cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue. Not everyone will have a fever.
But for people in certain groups, such as young children, infants, older adults or individuals with chronic medial conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart disease, flu can cause serious illness or even death.
How to prevent the flu
The best way to prevent the flu is for everyone over the age of six months to receive the recommended flu shot each year. Talk with your primary care provider if you have questions about whether the flu shot is right for you. Most health care insurance plans cover the annual flu shot as preventive care. Flu vaccination is often available at no or low cost to people who do not have insurance.
Other preventive actions include staying home if you’re sick, staying away from others who are sick, covering coughs and sneezes, wearing a mask if you are sick and practicing good hand hygiene by washing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Flu shots can often be obtained at your doctor’s office, at your pharmacy, at a clinic, at your workplace, at your school and at a local health department. Learn more here.