This fall, when you see signs reading “Get Your Flu Vaccine,” you might ask “Isn’t it too late to get vaccinated?” No, it’s not too late! CDC recommends that flu vaccination efforts continue throughout the flu season. While the sooner you get vaccinated the more likely you are to be protected against the flu when activity picks up in our community, vaccination into November and beyond can be beneficial during most flu seasons.

“Flu season most often peaks somewhere between December and March, but activity can linger as long as late May,” says Melissa Macku, Director of Clinic Operations for Virginia Gay Hospital, Clinics, Home Health, Nursing & Rehab. “We encourage people who have not yet been vaccinated this season to get vaccinated now as we’ve begun to see some flu activity in our area over the last week.” It takes approximately two weeks after vaccination for antibodies that protect against the influenza virus infection to develop in the body, so it’s best to get vaccinated early.

You may call any of the Virginia Gay Primary Care Clinics to schedule appointments for you and your family: Atkins Family Medical Clinic: (319) 446-7800; Urbana Family Medical Clinic: (319) 443-5000; Van Horne Family Medical Clinic: (319) 228-8000; Vinton Family Medical Clinic: (319) 472-6300. The Vinton Family Medical Clinic is also scheduling flu shot appointments for Saturday, November 18 from 8-11 am.

For millions of people every season, the flu means a fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, fatigue, and miserable days spent in bed. Millions of people get sick, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized, and thousands to tens of thousands of people die from flu each year.

There is a vaccine that can help prevent flu. While the vaccine varies in how well it works, there are many studies that show that flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctor visits, and missed work and school due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations. CDC estimates that last season, flu vaccine prevented 5.1 million cases of flu, 2.5 million flu-related medical visits and 71,000 flu-associated hospitalizations. However, only about half of the people in the United States reported getting a flu vaccine last season; leaving millions of people unprotected. If just 5% more of the population had gotten vaccinated last season, an additional 504,000 illnesses, 233,000 doctor’s visits and 6,000 hospitalizations would have been prevented.

CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older as the first and most important step in protecting against seasonal flu viruses. Some people are at high risk for serious flu-related complications that can lead to hospitalization and even death. People at high risk include pregnant women, children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old, people 65 year of age and older, and people who have certain medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease.

For those at high risk of serious flu complications, getting a flu vaccine is especially important. It’s also important to get the vaccine if you care for anyone at high risk, including children younger than 6 months who are too young to get a flu vaccine.

“Getting the flu vaccine is simple, and it’s the most important thing you can do to protect yourself and your family from the flu,” says Macku. Hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received flu vaccines over the past 50 years, and there has been extensive research supporting the safety of seasonal flu vaccines.

For more information about the seriousness of the flu and the benefits of flu vaccination, talk to you doctor or other health care professional, visit www.cdc.gov/flu

Additional information about Virginia Gay Hospital, Clinics, Home Health, Nursing and Rehab, is available by visiting www.myvgh.org