Flu Season Alert: Get Your Shot Early This Year

Woman receiving her flu shot

While we haven't heard much about influenza recently, the flu hasn’t gone away and may be about to make a major comeback. That’s why you should be sure to get your flu shot early this year, preferably by the end of October.

With our attention focused on COVID during the last two years, we haven’t heard much about influenza. But the flu hasn’t gone away, and it may be about to make a major comeback. That’s why you should be sure to get your flu shot early this year, preferably by the end of October.

Flu Symptoms and Complications

Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses that sickens millions of people in the U.S. every year. Symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue

The flu typically spreads fastest in the fall and winter when the weather is colder and people are spending more time inside. Flu symptoms can range from mild to severe and may last up to two weeks. Some people may develop complications from the flu, such as sinus or ear infections, and pneumonia. The flu can also make chronic medical problems worse, including asthma and heart disease. 

Why the Flu Is Returning

During the pandemic, social distancing and wearing face masks not only protected us from COVID, it also prevented the flu from spreading. The number of flu cases dropped dramatically.

Now that life is returning to normal and many people are no longer taking pandemic precautions, the flu has an opening to take hold again. Because our immune systems haven’t been exposed to the flu virus for a while, we have less immunity than usual.

The recent spread of flu in Australia gives us a warning about what might happen in the U.S. this winter. Flu season in Australia typically runs from June to September, their coldest months of the year. The flu began spreading rapidly in Australia in April – earlier than usual – and the number of confirmed cases was higher than normal. Experts think the U.S. could experience the same kind of flu season that hit Australia.

What You Can Do to Protect Yourself

Your best protection against an early and severe flu season is to get your flu shot before the virus starts spreading. It takes about two weeks after you get the shot for your immune system to ramp up to fight the virus.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is recommending that everyone ages six months and older get a flu shot this year. The CDC recommends that people over 65 get one of the high-dose flu vaccines that are available.

The best time to get a flu shot is before the end of October, the CDC says. If you can’t get vaccinated until November or later, you should still get a shot as it will give you some protection during the peak of the flu season.

Getting Two Vaccinations

Not only is a bad flu season a possibility, but we may also see a resurgence of COVID this winter. To maximize your protection, you may want to get both a flu shot and the recently-approved Omicron-specific COVID booster. You can get them during the same visit (they are two separate shots).

If you usually have a reaction to shots, such as a sore arm, you could schedule the two vaccinations a few days apart. Just be sure to complete the series before the end of October. Both the flu vaccine and the COVID booster are available through pharmacies and your health care provider.