Flu season is always unpredictable, said ULP internal medicine physician Stephen Houghland. Although flu epidemics happen every year, the timing, severity and length of an epidemic depends on many factors. It’s impossible to predict which flu viruses will prevail during a given season.

Experts must pick which viruses to include in the flu vaccine many months in advance for vaccine to be produced and delivered on time. Because of these factors, there is always the possibility of a less-than-optimal match between circulating viruses and the viruses in the vaccine. But, it’s important to remember that even during seasons when the vaccine is not optimally matched to predominant circulating viruses, experts continue to recommend the flu vaccine as the best way to prevent infection. Antibodies made in response to vaccination with one strain of flu viruses can provide protection against different, but related, strains.

Houghland recommended that everyone age six months and older receive an annual flu vaccine. Also, family members of infants less than 6 months old and all health care workers should receive the vaccination. Of course, there are some possible side effects. A small percentage of people who receive the vaccine will experience symptoms ranging from mild injection site pain to fever and malaise. One important  note — you cannot get the flu from the vaccine. Vaccines are made from one-half of the virus and purified. Because it is only half of the virus, it cannot replicate in your body.

Houghland suggested a few steps to take to avoid the infection or lessen the severity of the illness should you become sick:

  • Regular hand washing is the primary protection against transmission of the disease.
  • The appropriate amount of sleep is also very important, especially since studies show that more than 50 percent of Americans are sleep-deprived.
  • A healthy, balanced diet will assure the appropriate amount of nutrients that will help maintain a good defense against influenza.
  • Regular, moderate exercise will go a long way to strengthening your body’s defense.

Preventative behaviors will not guarantee that you will not be infected, according to Houghland, but getting the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available each year is always a good idea. The protection you get from vaccination will last throughout the flu season.