Though influenza (flu) season usually doesn’t peak until there is snow on the ground in the Upper Midwest, experts recommend getting vaccinated by the end of October. All people age 6 months or older are advised to get an annual flu vaccine.
“Vaccination is the best way to prevent the flu virus,” says Jennifer Schriever, M.D., a family medicine provider with Sanford Health.
Dr. Schriever says the seasonal flu vaccine protects against common influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common. She also stresses the safety of the vaccination for pregnant women and their unborn children — as well as the importance of the protection it provides for both. Pregnant women pass on protective antibodies, which helps keep the baby flu-free until 6 months old and able to receive a flu vaccination on their own.
What is flu?
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza virus. The virus spreads through person-to-person contact and droplets made when infected people cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can be inhaled directly or picked up on common surfaces, making good hand hygiene another crucial component in keeping the flu at bay.
Generally causing mild to severe illness, flu can lead to death. It is particularly dangerous in very young children, older adults and people with chronic health conditions.
There are a variety of signs and symptoms of the flu, including: fever or chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue. Children, more commonly than adults, experience vomiting and diarrhea when infected.
When is flu season?
Flu season starts in the fall before peaking around the end of December. Sanford Health vaccinates patients from September through the end of May.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that during the 2018-19 U.S. flu season (Oct. 1, 2018, through May 4, 2019) there were:
- 37.4 million-42.9 million flu illnesses
- 17.3 million-20.1 million flu medical visits
- 531,000-647,000 flu hospitalizations
- 36,400-61,200 flu deaths
About 90% of people who die of flu and 50%-70% of people hospitalized with the flu are 65 years old or older, the CDC says. Because of their increased risk, older adults are a priority group for vaccination.
What to do?
Check with your local clinic about the flu vaccine and whether they offer walk-in vaccinations or have scheduled days for people to come to the clinic to be vaccinated. A patient should be able to request a flu shot at a regularly scheduled appointment.