One thing that’s not new is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) strong recommendation that everyone, six months of age and older, receive a flu shot this fall, preferably by the end of October.

Flu shots are available at doctor’s offices, clinics, your county’s Arkansas Department of Health office, pharmacies and other places. If you have health insurance, Medicare or Medicaid, your preventive health benefits will cover your flu shot at no cost to you.

Here’s what is new for the 2019-20 influenza (flu) season, according to the CDC.

  • When to get your flu shot. To have the most protection against flu, the best time to get your shot is now through the end of October. Getting a flu vaccine (shot) too early – in July or August – can reduce the level of protection when the flu season peaks, usually from November through February. This drop in the shot’s effectiveness is especially true for older people. However, as long as flu viruses are circulating, flu shots should be encouraged. It takes about two weeks after your flu shot for your body’s immune system can fully protect you.
  • Children who need two doses (who are 6 months through 8 years of age and have not received two or more total doses of any flu vaccine or nasal spray vaccine before July 1, 2019, or whose vaccination history is not known), should get their first shot as soon as the vaccine is available. The second shot should be given at least four weeks after the first one. Ideally, the second shot should be given by the end of October. Children who have received two doses before July 1, 2019, only need one dose this season.
  • All regular-dose flu shots will protect against four of the most common viruses that cause flu and are expected to be circulating this year. This season’s vaccine options have been updated and include IIV, RIV4 and LAIV4. The CDC does not recommend any specific flu vaccine.
  • If you have an egg allergy, ask for a recombinant vaccine. This type is manufactured using cells rather than chicken eggs. Recombinant shots will protect against four viruses. Flublok Quadrivalent is safe for use in adults 18 years and older. Be sure that the person giving this type of shot checks the expiration date because this vaccine has a shorter shelf life (good for 9 months after manufacture).
  • Children 6 months of age and older may now have the Afluria Quadrivalent flu shot.
  • People between 18 and 64 years of age can opt for the Afluria (protects against three strains) or Afluria Quadrivalent (protects against four strains) that is given with a jet injector. It uses a high-pressure, narrow steam of fluid to penetrate the skin instead of a needle. Most standard flu shots are given into a muscle with a needle.
  • People who are 65 years of age or older have the option of a more effective vaccine. Fluzone High-Dose protects against three viruses and is an inactivated flu vaccine. It contains four times more antigen (the part of the vaccine that helps your body build up protection against flu viruses) than standard-dose flu shots. The higher dose of antigen in the vaccine gives older people 24% better protection against flu, as well as reduces the number of hospital admissions, compared to a standard-dose vaccine.
  • People who are at a high-risk for serious, potentially life-threatening complications are strongly urged to get a flu shot every year. Check with your doctor about the best shot to get if you are high-risk. Any of the following conditions or diseases will place you at a higher risk of complications from flu: Adults with asthma, sickle cell disease, blood disorders, cystic fibrosis, chronic lung disease or COPD, diabetes, heart disease or CAD, kidney disorders, liver disorders, HIV, AIDS, leukemia, obesity (BMI of 40 or higher) or a weakened immune system. Other high-risk people include anyone who is receiving chemotherapy or radiation treatment, age 65 or older, age zero to 2 years, pregnant plus two weeks after end of the pregnancy and people who live in a nursing home or other long-term care facility.
  • A nasal spray vaccine is again available this year for non-pregnant women or those ages 2 through 49 years. It will protect against the four most common flu viruses. Some people should not receive the nasal spray vaccine so check with your doctor first.

Preventing the flu

While a flu shot is the best protection against flu, it’s not perfect. Depending on many factors – the type of flu viruses circulating, age of person, their health, timing of shot and other variables – flu vaccines are 30% to 60% effective in preventing flu. It’s still possible to get the flu after getting a flu shot. You may have been exposed to flu viruses before getting your shot and the shot didn’t have two weeks to build up your immunity. Or, you may be exposed to a flu virus that wasn’t included in your flu shot. However, you cannot get the flu from a shot.

If you have a flu shot and still get the flu, studies have shown that the shot reduces the severity of the illness. It also reduces deaths, hospital admissions and length of stay in hospital or intensive care units.

Top tips for a speedy and safe recovery if you get the flu:

  • Contact your doctor about getting an antiviral drug as soon as you develop symptoms. These drugs are most effective if given within 48 hours of when symptoms start.
  • Keep your distance from others if you are sick, stay home for a few days to protect other people.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a disposable tissue when coughing or sneezing.
  • Wash your hands more frequently when you are ill or taking care of a sick person. Medscape Medical News reports that washing hands for 30 seconds with water, even without soap, is more effective than most hand sanitizers for killing the virus that causes influenza A. If the virus is in/on wet mucus (such as from a sneeze or wiping a nose) the hand sanitizer cannot reach the virus to kill it. However, water washes away the mucus and virus germs. Hand sanitizers do work if the mucus-containing virus is dry. Washing hands under running water with soap is the preferred method. Use hand sanitizers only when no water is available.
  • Don’t touch your face when you are ill, especially eyes, nose or mouth. That’s one of the fastest ways to spread viruses.
  • Clean the sick room with disinfectant including everything the sick person touches – handles, faucets, light switches, remotes, electronic devices, etc.
  • Take care of yourself when you’re ill by getting plenty of sleep, drinking lots of liquids, and eat small but very healthy meals or snacks.
  • Be especially careful to protect children younger than 6 months old. They are at high risk of serious flu complications but are too young for a flu shot. Anyone who lives with or cares for an infant should get a flu shot to help protect the infant. If the mother gets a flu shot during pregnancy, it can protect the baby for several months after birth.