September marks the beginning of fall, football and flu season.
Although influenza viruses can surface year-round, activity typically increases in October and peaks between December and February, and the time to prepare is now, public health officials say.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone 6 months old and older receive a flu vaccine before the end of October to prevent the spread of influenza viruses. Early immunization is preferred, since the vaccine takes two weeks to provide protection and it's impossible to predict the severity of the season, when it will start and how long it will last.
Despite this recommendation, only 45.6 percent of people in the United States got a flu shot last season.
Sharon Goforth, special projects supervisor at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department, said although it's impossible to completely prevent influenza, vaccination is the best way to limit the spread of the disease, especially to those with a higher risk of developing complications from the virus, such as infants, pregnant women, older adults and people with medical conditions.
BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee and Mount Canaan Baptist Church will host a drive-through flu shot clinic Oct. 7 for those 7 and older from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. in the church parking lot. BlueCross members or others with insurance coverage must bring an ID card to receive flu vaccines provided in their coverage. Vaccines are available for $25.99 to those without insurance.
To find a location that offers flu shots, visit the website vaccinefinder.org.
"The more people within your community that you have protected — that you have vaccinated — whenever you get flu in the community, if it keeps coming into contact with those people that are protected, it has nowhere to go," she said.
While most healthy adults who contract influenza will recover on their own in less than two weeks, it can also result in hospitalization and sometimes death, particularly for individuals within those high-risk populations.
Unlike a cold, symptoms of the flu begin suddenly and include fever, cough, sore throat, congestion, body aches, headache and fatigue.
Goforth said that while mild side effects, such as low-grade fever, muscle pain and feelings of weakness, from the vaccine sometimes occur a day or two after the shot, those pale in comparison to the virus itself. She also said it's impossible to catch the virus from the vaccine, and serious reactions are extremely rare.
Sheryl Fletcher, nurse manager for the Hamilton County school district, said children should get the shot, too, and those who come down with the illness should stay home.
"We ask parents not to send kids to school if they have fever, cough or any flulike symptoms," she said, adding that children diagnosed with flu should stay home until 24 hours after their fever subsides without fever-reducing medicine, because it can mask the virus.
Children 6 months through 8 years old being vaccinated against flu for the first time, or who have previously only had one flu shot, will require a booster shot within 28 days of the first dose.
Some employers and organizations offer free flu vaccines, and most health insurances cover the cost, but for those without insurance, the out-of-pocket cost of a flu shot varies by location and ranges from $15 to $50.
The nasal spray flu vaccine is not available this year because the CDC determined it was ineffective in preventing the virus.
Contact staff writer Elizabeth Fite at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6673.