CDC says it’s flu vaccine time — here’s what you need to know

Get your tissues ready — flu season is coming.

The influenza (flu) virus typically makes its rounds starting in the late fall through early spring, which is why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is beginning to get the word out that it’s time to start thinking about getting vaccinated.

Everyone six months of age and older, who does not have contraindications, needs to get a flu vaccine, according to the CDC’s 2019-2020 flu season recommendations.

While no vaccine can offer 100 percent immunity, when the viruses in the flu vaccine match the strains circulating in the population, “the flu vaccine has been shown to reduce the risk of having to go to the doctor with flu by 40 percent to 60 percent,” according to the CDC.

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Flu season in the United States
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Flu season in the United States
Emergency room nurse Kathy Nguyen wears a mask as deals with flu patients at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Emergency room nurse Christine Bauer treats Joshua Lagade of Vista, California, for the flu as his girlfriend Mayra Mora looks on in the emergency room at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Emergency room nurse Christine Bauer treats Joshua Lagade of Vista, California, for the flu in the emergency room at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Doug Hasselo, 87 of Carlsbad, California, is treated for the flu by float nurse Nellie Reyes in the emergency room at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Joshua Lagade of Vista, California, gets an IV from emergency room nurse Christine Bauer at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
Emergency room nurse Richard Horner wears a mask as he deals with flu patients at Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, California, U.S., January 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake
A doctor hold a syringe as part of the start of the seasonal influenza vaccination campaign in Nice, France October 24, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
Boxes of vaccines against the flu are seen as part of the start of the seasonal influenza vaccination campaign in Nice, France October 24, 2017. REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
PORTLAND, ME - DECEMBER 29: Troy Ali, 21 of Portland receives a flu shot from Greater Portland Health medical assistant Anissa Millette at the clinic in Franklin Towers on Cumberland Ave on Friday, December 29, 2017. (Staff Photo by Carl D. Walsh/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 22: Vials of the Fluvirin influenza vaccine are displayed at a Walgreens phramacy on January 22, 2018 in San Francisco, California. A strong strain of H3N2 influenza has claimed the lives of 74 Californians under the age of 65 since the flu season began in October of last year. People are being encouraged to get flu shots even through the vaccine has been only 30% effective in combating the influenza. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
SAN FRANCISCO, CA - JANUARY 22: A sign advertising flu shots is displayed at a Walgreens phramacy on January 22, 2018 in San Francisco, California. A strong strain of H3N2 influenza has claimed the lives of 74 Californians under the age of 65 since the flu season began in October of last year. People are being encouraged to get flu shots even through the vaccine has been only 30% effective in combating the influenza. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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Here’s what you need to know about flu vaccination:

When to get the flu vaccine

The CDC recommends getting the vaccine by late October. However, infants and children ages 6 months through 8 years, who require two doses of the flu vaccine, should get their first shot as soon as possible so they can receive the second dose (which needs to be administered around four weeks later) by the end of October.

Sophia Tolliver, MD, family medicine physician at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Yahoo Lifestyle: “Per the CDC, flu activity can start as early as October/November and continue as late as May; peak flu activity is between December and February. The earlier the vaccination, the earlier the coverage and benefit against contracting the flu virus.”

That said, “You don't want to get the flu shot too early, such as July or August,” Tolliver adds, “as protection could wane closer to the end of the flu season.”

But even if you do get the flu vaccine after October, it can still be beneficial. The CDC recommends getting vaccinated “as long as influenza viruses are circulating, even into January or later.”

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What to Eat When You Have a Cold
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What to Eat When You Have a Cold

So read on to learn about 10 foods that will help you conquer your cold, and do it naturally.

Citrus

When taken at the first sign of a cold, vitamin C has been proven to shorten its duration by about a day. So load up on the citrus fruits, which contain a whole lot of vitamin C. And don’t be afraid to go overboard; it’s nearly impossible to overdose on the vitamin.

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Yogurt

Yogurt, kefir, and other similar foods contain plenty of probiotics, which are beneficial strains of bacteria that help digestion and prevent stomach problems. But their benefits don’t end there: A recent study found that they also help lower the risk of upper respiratory tract infections.

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Garlic

Garlic contains a sulfuric compound called allicin, which produces a powerful antioxidant, which is crucial in fighting a cold. It’s most potent when eaten raw, but if you don’t want to bad breath there are plenty of garlic supplements out there as well.

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Dark Leafy Greens

Leafy greens are about the healthiest foods we can put in our bodies, and kale is loaded with nutrients including vitamin K, A, and C, all of which help keep us healthy. The darker the green, the better.

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Carrots

Carrots, and other orange vegetables like sweet potatoes, contain high levels of beta carotene, which is converted by our bodies into vitamin A. This vitamin is essentially in keeping us healthy and fighting colds: it helps keep our immune system strong, and keeps the mucous membranes in our nose and throat healthy.

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Oily Fish

Omega-3 fatty acids are renowned for their power to reduce inflammation in the body, which can keep your immune system from doing its job properly. Oily fish like tuna, salmon, and mackerel are very high in this good fat, and can fend off colds and more serious diseases as well.

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Fennel and Anise Seeds

Both fennel and anise seeds are natural expectorants, and also have antibacterial properties that can help to clear up congestion and ease coughing. Fennel can be eaten raw or roasted, and the seeds can be made into a tea.

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Lean Protein

Lean protein, like skinless chicken and turkey and pork loin, doesn’t just help build muscle, it also helps us build up antibodies, which help us fight infection. So ask for extra chicken in your soup!

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Oysters

Oysters contain more zinc than any other food on Earth, and zinc has been proven to shorten the length of colds. So ditch the Cold-EEZE (which contains about as much zinc as three oysters) and head to your nearest oyster bar.

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Blueberries

Wild blueberries contain more antioxidants than any other fruit, and can be incredibly helpful in boosting immunity and keeping you healthy.

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How the flu vaccine works

It takes about two weeks after being vaccinated for the body’s immune response to kick in and offer protection from the flu virus. About two weeks after you’ve been vaccinated, antibodies — a protective protein made by your immune system — start to develop in your body. These antibodies are able to recognize the virus (known as an antigen) from the vaccine and can latch onto it and neutralize it.

Yes, you do need to get one every year.

Protection from the flu vaccine lasts about six months, according to the Immunization Action Coalition. That’s because the antibodies decline over time, making the vaccine less effective, and the specific flu virus that’s circulating in the population can change year-to-year. So you need an annual vaccination “to promote the body's best immune response” against the flu, says Tolliver.

No, the vaccine doesn’t give you the flu.

For some reason, this myth continues to persist. That may be because some people experience mild reactions to the vaccine. While the most common ones are “soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given,” according to the CDC, some may experience a “low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches” soon after the shot, which can last for one or two days.

“What vaccinations essentially do is trigger the body into protecting itself in case the real thing — a virus/bug — comes around, so you may expect some level of a natural body response after receiving the flu shot,” explains Tolliver. “However, it is more likely that you were already brewing an infection even before the vaccination was given.”

She adds: “Also, the vaccination takes about two weeks to reach its full potential so in the interim if you are exposed to the flu virus, one might mistakenly blame a recent vaccination.”

It’s also worth noting that when you get a flu vaccine, you are either receiving flu viruses that are inactive (dead) and not infectious or else a single gene from a flu virus (rather than the full virus) to trigger an immune response, according to the CDC.

Why you don’t want to get the flu

The flu isn’t just a bad cold. It’s a serious disease — especially for infants, young children, adults ages 65 and older, and people with certain chronic health conditions, including asthma, heart disease, or diabetes — that can lead to hospitalization and even death, according to the CDC. Between October 2018 and May 2019, the CDC estimates that 36,000 to 61,000 people died from the flu.

“Vaccinations have been proven to save lives and additionally, decrease the severity and length of a potential infection,” says Tolliver.

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