It's almost October — time for pumpkins, Halloween, and Oktoberfest.
And flu shots.
The Carroll County Health Department is launching a campaign to let people know October is the optimal month for getting a flu shot. This effort will include an upcoming social media blitz using the #CarrollFluVax hashtag, according to Maggie Kunz, health planner with the health department.
But why single out October for flu shots?
"You have to get it every year and the immunity may wane over time," Kunz said. "Our flu seasons have been lasting longer into the spring, and so if you get it too early, you won't necessarily have as much coverage at the end of the season."
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends getting vaccinated before the flu season begins, and at least by the end of October — it takes about two weeks for a vaccination to begin offering full protection.
In some communities, this could mean getting a flu shot in August or September. But according to deputy health officer Dr. Henry Taylor, the pattern of recent flu seasons in Carroll County specifically suggest Oct. 1 as the best starting point for flu shots.
"We looked at the local county data, we looked at the state data and the national data, and in CC, we're recommending something that is consistent with CDC but it goes beyond what CDC is saying," Taylor said. "October is the best month to get the flu shot because it wears off after six months and we see there are flu cases into the spring."
This is not to say that a person loses all immunity after six months post-vaccination, but that getting a shot in October ensures the most protection from flu in April, when Carroll County has seen flu activity in years past.
It is not recommended that people who got a shot earlier than October get a booster shot, Taylor said.
"Those people who got it before October started, that's OK," he said. "It's good they got their shot."
Another message the health department would like to convey is that it's best to get the quadrivalent vaccine, which protects against four different strains of flu, rather than the trivalent vaccine, which protects against only three. It's a recommendation that also comes from looking at data on how the flu has spread in Carroll County, Taylor said.
"We are recommending the quadrivalent vaccine because that fourth strain that's in the quadrivalent mirrors what we were seeing in April of last year," he said. "That fourth strain is the one we were seeing — 80 percent of the cases in April should have been covered by that strain, whereas the people who got the trivalent vaccine wouldn't have been covered."
Additionally, it's often the case that the strain of flu in circulation in Carroll in the spring is the strain that first crops up in the fall and winter, Taylor said.
The flu, short for influenza, is a viral infection that affects the throat, nose and lungs with symptoms sometimes similar to but much worse than a cold. And unlike colds, the flu does kill people every year — more than 100 children died from flu in the 2016-17 flu season, according to the CDC.
For children in Carroll County Public Schools, the flu shots are coming to them; in-school vaccinations will be available on dates ranging from Oct. 24 to Oct. 27 for those children whose parents have signed the consent form. For the first time, Kunz said, Carroll County high schools will also participate in offering vaccinations.
These clinics will offer only the quadrivalent flu shot; for the second year, the CDC has recommended against using the FluMist nasal spray vaccine.
The health department will also host flu shot clinics for children in November, primarily to catch those who might have missed the dates when shots were offered in the schools.