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Getting Your Flu Shot This Winter

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A small pinch with a big payoff

It's that time of year again — flu season. If you're looking to avoid all the symptoms that accompanies a bout of influenza, now's the time to get a vaccination. If you got vaccinated last year, it's not enough to protect you from the ever-changing strains of flu you may encounter this winter.

The flu vaccine typically contains three strains of influenza virus that disease experts predict will be most prevalent during the season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2012-13 they include:

Two of these strains are different from the 2011-12 vaccine; only the H1N1 virus was included last year.

Pros and cons of getting vaccinated

Flu typically spreads through the air when people around you sneeze or talk, and people can pass the virus to another person even before they begin to feel sick, according to the CDC.

While many people may suffer through the flu with the usual sniffles, aches and pains, for others influenza can lead to deadly complications, particularly in the very young and the elderly. Other people who need to be especially careful are people with asthma and other health conditions, and pregnant women.

The best way to prevent influenza is to get vaccinated, according to the CDC.

When and how to get vaccinated

Flu vaccine is typically available starting in September and once you get your dose, it takes about two weeks for your body to mount an immune response that will protect you if you're exposed. The CDC recommends that all Americans over 6 months of age should get vaccinated. Even if you're not in a high-risk group, it may be wise to get vaccinated so you don't get the flu and spread it to those around you.

There are three types of delivery systems for flu vaccine — the standard injection, which goes into the muscle, a nasal spray, and a new intradermal vaccine that was available for the first time last year and goes into the skin.

While anyone can get the standard intramuscular flu shot, not everyone can get the two other types.

The nasal spray is certainly the less painful option, but it's only available to healthy people between the ages of 2 and 49. The vaccine is different from the standard flu shot because instead of a killed virus, it uses a weakened version of a live virus, which, although it cannot cause someone to get the flu, makes it riskier for people who have weakened immune systems or pregnant women, according to the CDC.

The intradermal system is an option for adults between 18 and 49.

Flu season is here now and will likely peak around January or February. Talk to your doctor to weigh the pros and cons of vaccination to protect yourself this season, and visit the CDC website (www.cdc.gov) for more information.

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