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Editorial: Still time to get flu shot, protect against spread of virus

Kathy Brown, RN, gives Christian Cocker, 11, a flu shot at the Carroll County Health Department flu shot clinic on Wednesday October 19, 2016.
Kathy Brown, RN, gives Christian Cocker, 11, a flu shot at the Carroll County Health Department flu shot clinic on Wednesday October 19, 2016. (KEN KOONS/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

Haven’t gotten your flu shot yet? Now might be a good time.

While health experts generally recommend getting a flu shot in October, Maryland’s flu season tends to ramp up after the holidays in January and February and often stretches late into spring.

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One reason for a spike? After spending so much time around family and friends during the stretch between Christmas and New Year’s, we’re bound to be giving each other more than hugs and gifts — we’re sharing germs too. And just in time to return to school or the office and spread them even more.

Flu activity in Maryland has been pretty mild so far in December, according to the latest data from the state’s Department of Health, but expect that trend to change in the coming weeks. If you haven’t yet received a flu shot and have been fortunate enough not to catch the virus, now is a good time to get inoculated.

“The shot will take effect within one to two weeks and get you some immunity in time for when we expect it to be coming through the community,” Dr. Henry Taylor, Carroll County’s Deputy Health Officer, told the Board of County Commissioners last week during a briefing on flu season.

Getting the vaccination now will provide protection well into the 2018 flu season, which in Maryland often lasts until early to mid-May.

Having the flu can be miserable, but can also cause serious health problems, particularly for children younger than 2, adults over the age of 65 and anyone who already has a health condition.

The flu shot not only protects you from the virus, but also helps prevent its spread to others.

Whether or not you get the flu vaccine, there are some common courtesy — and common sense — things you can do, such as coughing and sneezing into your elbow and keeping a “social distance,” as Taylor put it, of about 3 feet from people who might be sick or if you start to feel ill, to prevent spreading the flu virus and other upper respiratory illness.

And, of course, wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, which is still the most effective way to interrupt the transmission of germs from one person to another, health experts say.

"The goal is to break transmission of the bacteria or virus from one person who is sick to somebody who is healthy and susceptible,” Taylor told us. “We do that with hand washing, we do that with the sick person containing their secretions, and we do it by immunizing our children."

There are more than 40 pharmacies and clinics in Carroll that offer no-appointment-necessary flu shots, but you should call ahead to make sure they have the vaccine in stock, to ask what types they offer (ask for the quadrivalent shot, which protects against four strains of the virus rather than three) and to make sure they accept your insurance first. You can also check with your primary physician or your child’s pediatrician; many pharmacies will not administer the vaccine to children younger than 9.

The Carroll County Health Department maintains a website with local resources on where to obtain a flu shot at cchd.maryland.gov/flu.

Get your shot now, before flu activity is in full swing to keep you and others around you healthy in 2018.

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