With news reports that the flu season has started early and could be worse than last year, you may be wondering if it’s too late to get a vaccine. It’s not, since flu season has barely gotten underway in Massachusetts. The New England region is still seeing normal levels of flu activity — as determined by the percentage of lab samples that test positive for the influenza virus — while Southern and Midwestern states have seen a spike in flu-like illnesses, according to a report issued Monday by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
This flu season promises to be worse than last year’s because new strains of viruses are circulating. (The strains circulating in 2011-2012 were the same as those in 2010-2011, so people who were infected or vaccinated the previous year may have been protected from infection.)
Flu rates tend to peak in the Bay State in late February or March, so even if the flu peaks a bit earlier this year, there’s still time to get immunized. “There continues to be plenty of flu vaccine available and it’s absolutely not too late to protect yourself and your family by getting a flu shot,’’ wrote John Jacob, a blogger at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, in his post last week.
It takes two weeks for the vaccine to become fully effective, so you could still develop symptoms after vaccination if you’ve already been exposed to someone who’s ill. What’s more, the latest research suggests that flu vaccines aren’t as effective as other vaccines, so you could still get the flu if you’re immunized. That said, this year’s shot may be more effective since the strains in the immunization currently match the ones that are circulating in the United States.
The CDC recommends the vaccine for anyone over the age of six months, but those with severe egg allergies or who have had allergic reactions to previous flu vaccinations should probably skip the shot. Here’s where to find a flu clinic near you.