It's not too late to get a flu shot.

Although the flu season usually starts, the vaccine protects you within two weeks. The season usually reaches its peak in January or February and lasts until May.

The flu hospitalized and killed more Americans last winter than any seasonal flu in decades. More than 900,000 people ended up in the hospital. More than 80,000 people have died and surpassed the previous 56,000 peak during a flu season over the past 30 years.

Hospital admissions and deaths mainly affected people over the age of 65 years. With age, the immune system weakens and the ability to fight off disease decreases. In addition, the flu virus can lead to complications in people who already have chronic health problems.

The high toll last year underlines the importance of getting a flu vaccine as soon as possible. The shot can prevent infections and reduce the severity of complications from the disease.

If you are enrolled in Medicare Part B, your flu shot will not cost you as long as your doctor, clinic, or pharmacy agrees not to pay you more than Medicare. There is no deductible or additional payment.

If you were vaccinated last year, you will need another shot this year as your flu virus immunity wears off after one year. In addition, virus types usually change from season to season. As a result, new vaccines are produced every year against the most common strains of the season, as scientists suspect.

If you have questions about which flu shot is best for you, contact your doctor or other health care professional.

Despite the risk of flu and its complications, the vaccination rate remains much lower than it should be. Even during the terrible season of last year, less than half of the US population was vaccinated.

Why? Some people do not understand that the flu can be serious and life-threatening. Therefore, they do not believe that a flu shot is worth the time and effort. Others oppose the annual vaccine because they believe it is risky, although flu shots are safe through decades of experience.

If you are afraid of a severe allergic reaction or other condition that may make you insecure for the flu vaccine, you should consult your doctor before vaccination. Otherwise, it is important to know that you can not get the flu shot.

Side effects are rare. Most people do not notice anything after vaccination. Some patients may experience a mild fever or pain when the shot is delivered.

When the flu season starts, you should wash your hands and stay away from sick people to reduce the spread of germs. As useful as these steps are, an annual vaccination is still the best way to protect yourself and your environment.

Bob Moos is the public affairs officer in the southwest of the US Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.



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