It's the season for sneezin' and health officials are recommending people get a flu shot sooner than later.
"By far, the best prevention against the flu is getting the vaccine," said Dr. Ben Hess, with Tri-County Health Care.
TCHC has started offering flu shot clinics and Hess said it's definitely not too early to get the vaccine. Flu activity typically begins in the fall months and peaks in January and February, though depending on the season, it can last until May.
"The shot lasts for six to eight months and so we recommend getting it now," Hess said. "Especially snowbirds should get it early because if they head south, the flu season peaks even earlier."
Amy Severson, APRN, CNP for TCHC, also recommends getting vaccinated in the month of October. On a blog post for Tri-County, Severson said the more people get covered, the less flu is spread in communities.
Since it can take one to two weeks for the flu vaccine to become effective, it's best to get vaccinated in the month of October, if possible, though Federal Health Officials say it's better to get a shot any time rather than skip the vaccine altogether.
For the 2016-2017 season, CDC recommends getting a flu shot, and not the nasal spray flu vaccine.
Hess said that unfortunately studies have shown that the FluMist nasal spray hasn't been as effective as the shot for the past few years.
"It's unfortunate for kids or those who don't like shots but we still hope everyone will get vaccinated," Hess added.
Influenza, or the flu, is caused by viruses that attack the lungs, nose and throat. This group of viruses is very different from those that cause stomach upset and diarrhea — or what some call the "stomach flu."
Hess said there are some common misconceptions he hears each year.
"The most common thing I hear is that someone can catch the flu from the vaccine," he said. "That's not the case. The vaccine is dead. The body will sometimes have an immune response and someone might have some mild symptoms but that's normal and not the flu."
Influenza symptoms can be mild or severe, but typically cause a cough, sore throat, body aches and fever. Usually influenza is more severe than a cold, and symptoms start very suddenly.
Most healthy people will recover from influenza without complication. However, many people are in an age group or have a condition that places them at high-risk for complications from influenza. These groups include children under five but especially those under two, adults over 65, pregnant women, persons with a chronic medical condition, such as asthma, neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions, lung and heart disease, chronic kidney disease and diabetes, weakened immune system and morbid obesity.
If a family member gets the flu, call the clinic and ask about Tamiflu for the rest of the family, Hess said. It can help prevent infection of others, he said.
The flu vaccination is recommended for everyone to help protect high-risk and healthy persons from disease. About the only people that shouldn't get vaccinated are infants under six months. Those who have a compromised immune system should ask their doctor if they should get a flu shot. A high dose trivalent vaccine for patients ages 65 and up is also available.
If someone does get the flu, it's important to avoid transmitting it to others, Hess said. Also, he recommends drinking lots of fluids and getting plenty of rest. The flu can last for seven to 10 days but many people require another couple weeks of recovery, he added.
What can be expected this flu season?
So far it's hard to predict what will happen this year. Influenza seasons are unpredictable in a number of ways, according to MDH. Although epidemics of influenza happen every year, the timing, severity and length of the epidemic depends on many factors, which include the characteristics of the viruses that are spreading and whether they match the viruses in the vaccine.
The Department of Health will monitor influenza activity across the state and provide weekly updates on its website, www.health.state.mn.us.