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Every year the United States experiences a flu epidemic. Flu viruses are constantly changing so it’s impossible to predict how long or severe the season will be, but the annual flu season usually begins in October and peaks between December and February. Sometimes this epidemic lasts as late as May, but no matter the length or severity it is always deadly for some. It is difficult to track the exact number of hospitalizations and deaths due to flu, but the CDC estimates that approximately 9% of the U.S. population is hospitalized and the death toll has been as high as 56,000 in a single year.

With the rise of the anti-vax movement the flu shot is a hot topic of conversation and it’s common for false information or misconceptions to spread as rapidly as the virus itself. Here are a few things you need to know to protect yourself and your family this winter.

1). You cannot get the flu from the flu shot. The flu shot does not contain a live virus so it’s impossible to get sick from the vaccine itself. However, it’s still possible to contract the flu even if you received your shot because the vaccine cannot cover every single strain. Each year it is designed to protect against the most prevalent types of flu and studies show that it reduces your risk by 40-60%.

2). It takes two weeks for the vaccination to be effective in your body. You need to get your shot as early as possible in the season so that it becomes effective before you are exposed to the flu. This is especially important for young children and the elderly for whom influenza is most likely to be deadly.

3). Take every precaution you can. Influenza is a serious threat. If you don’t believe me then just look up the epidemic of 1918 when an estimated 50-100 million people (3-5% of the world’s population!) were killed by it. Be careful to wash your hands regularly and avoid touching your nose and mouth. Use the sanitary wipes provided by grocery stores to clean your cart and always always stay home if you have any indication of sickness. Remember that children under 6 months old and those with a severely compromised immune system are not able to receive the flu vaccine. It is our duty as citizens and humans to protect others from our own germs so don’t hesitate to use your sick days.

In a culture where death is rarely talked about and sickness is neatly tucked away in hospitals it’s easy to forget that illness poses a real threat. Influenza feels common to us, but that doesn’t make it any less dangerous so take care of yourself and your family this winter!

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