It's hard to believe, but flu season is nearly upon us. Flu season typically starts around mid-to-late October and can go as long as early to mid-March. The bulk of the cases are usually in January and February.
"We expect it to start sometime in October, but it's very much geographical, so it depends on where it's going to hit first and usually it hits in the north and comes up south but we'll see," said Ina Stephens, an associate professor of pediatrics and pediatrics diseases at the University of Virginia Health System.
It takes two weeks for the antibodies to build up in your system in order to fight the flu, so in order to be prepared for the start of flu season Stephens said now is the time to get vaccinated.
"The time to start getting vaccinated is prior to the flu season hitting, so it's usually mid-to-late September, so that's usually when general office settings start getting the flu vaccine," Stephens said. "We offer it throughout the season but we recommend getting it mid-September."
This year, some companies are making new vaccines that protect against four strains of influenza. The older trivalent influenza vaccine protects from two influenza "A" strains, and one "B" strain, but the new quadrivalent vaccine will protect from two "B" strains.
However, Stephens said that last B strain is rare and only accounts for about a quarter of infections. She adds it may take a while for your doctors office to get the new vaccine. Since the A strain usually hits first, it's not necessarily worth waiting for the new vaccine.
"The problem of the (new) vaccine, it is a good vaccine, and it has the additional B strain which you will want to eventually get protection from, is that the vaccine is not available, generally available just yet," she said.
There are a number of different manufacturers making the new vaccine and certain vaccines are eligible for certain age groups. So, for example, one of the vaccines is only eligible for children older than 3 years, one of the vaccines is for children older than 2 years, and there is a vaccine that can be used in infants down to 6 months of age. "But we don't know when that vaccine will be readily available to the pediatric offices," Stephens said.
The supply is also likely going to be low. There are only a few manufactures making the vaccine, so doctor's offices may not get a huge supply of the new vaccine.
"The offices may not get a huge supply of the quadrivalent vaccine, so the recommendations are to get your vaccine, whatever the office has whether it's the trivalent or the quadrivalent, the earlier the better to get yourself protected," Stephens said.
The nasal spray version of the vaccine is just as effective as the shot.
Doctors offices around the area are starting to stock up on their flu vaccines now. This is a good time to talk to your doctor about scheduling an appointment.