The process of developing antibodies to fight the flu takes time. It will take around two weeks from when you receive your vaccination until you are safeguarded against those strains of the flu. So if you come into contact with the flu before those two weeks are up, you can still get sick.
The process of developing antibodies to fight the flu takes time. It will take around two weeks from when you receive your vaccination until you are safeguarded against those strains of the flu. So if you come into contact with the flu before those two weeks are up, you can still get sick. (istockphoto.com)

The weather stayed warm for so long this fall that it was easy to forget that runny nose season was coming. The reality check came this week when the Maryland Department of Health reported that flu season had hit early and confirmed 11 cases of the virus in the state. Last year at this time there were just three.

Health officials don’t know yet if this is a sign of a bad season to come, since who actually gets the flu year-to-year tends to be wildly unpredictable and erratic. But it is a good time to remind people to get a flu shot, since the highly contagious virus is already circulating through the air, and perhaps a little more aggressively than in the past. The Centers for Disease Control is urging everyone to get the vaccine before the end of the month.

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Unfortunately, more than half of people in the United States don’t get the vaccine, which is unacceptable. We can do better.

We’ve heard all the reasons for avoiding the shot. Some people say they never get sick, while others say the vaccine gives them the flu. For those folks, there’s always a first time, and the vaccine unequivocally does not cause the flu. It’s a myth. Don’t believe it. The virus in the shot is dead; it cannot transmit the disease. Some people may get mild cold-like symptoms caused by an immune response, but not a full-blown flu.

If people don’t want to protect themselves from the disease, which is so easily spread through sneezing, coughing and contact with contaminated surfaces, they ought to think about others. For most people the flu will keep them home a few days with a fever, achy muscles, fatigue, headache and other symptoms. For others, it can turn into a severe respiratory infection to the point of respiratory arrest that can kill. The elderly, babies and those with compromised immune systems are most at risk; let’s protect the most vulnerable in our population from a disease that can be prevented.

Nearly 30,000 to 50,000 people die each year and 500,000 are hospitalized from the flu, according to the CDC. In the worst epidemic in modern history, nearly 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with the virus in 1918. The death toll reached 50 million worldwide, including about 675,000 in the United States.

The country is no longer in imminent danger of such a massive outbreak. But if enough people don’t get the vaccine, who knows what fate awaits us in the future. Remember, the country is starting to see a reemergence of measles because of a growing anti-vaccination movement. The problem got so bad in New York that the school system forbid students without the vaccine from attending classes with other students.

The severity, timing and length of the flu season can vary by year because different strains of the virus appear each season, which is why a new vaccine is created annually. Vaccine makers try to predict which strain will dominate, but that is a tough task. The CDC found that the flu shot was 36% effective during the 2017 to 2018 season and this year is estimated so far to be have a 47% effectiveness rate.

At the end of the day, that doesn’t really matter all that much. Rather than take the risk, just get the shot. Better to have some protection than none at all.

Some are looking to Australia to try to figure out what the flu season will look like in the United States. The Aussies, whose flu season ends in October, have seen more than 272,000 confirmed cases of flu and 662 deaths. Flu season also started early there this year, beginning in April and peaking in June and July. It typically runs from June to October and peaks in August and September.

That’s no guarantee the same will happen in the United States, but it ought to make people want to get the vaccine just in case. Last year, there were 3,274 flu-linked hospitalizations and 82 related deaths, including four young people. And those are just the reported and confirmed cases.

Researchers are working on a universal vaccine that would protect against many strains and wouldn’t have to be taken every year. The National Institute of Health began the first human clinical trial on such a vaccine in April. The University of Maryland School of Medicine also recently won a federal grant to study a longer lasting vaccine.

We have high hopes the success of the scientists doing the work. Until then, it’s up to each one us to get a flu shot.

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