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Doc Talk: Flu season is here and experts say now is the time to get the shot

Doc Talk: Flu season is here and experts say now is the time to get the shot. (WWMT/Patrick Hagan)

After one of the deadliest flu seasons in decades — an estimated 80,000 Americans died of flu and its complications last winter — Ascension-Borgess is issuing a reminder that now is the time to get vaccinated.

“It’s the best to get it! Why not?” said Barbara Hosner of Vicksburg, who was getting a shot at the flue clinic booth during Senior Day at the Kalamazoo Expo Center. “You know, why take that chance?”

William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt University vaccine expert, said the tally of 80,000 released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was nearly twice as much as what health officials previously considered a bad year.

In recent years, flu-related deaths have ranged from about 12,000 to 56,000, according to the CDC. But last fall and winter, the U.S. went through one of the most severe flu seasons in recent memory. It was driven by a kind of flu that tends to put more people in the hospital and cause more deaths, particularly among young children and the elderly. The season peaked in early February and was mostly over by the end of March.

But it is this time of year, health experts said, that is the best time for the vaccines, when the elderly and young children need extra protection.

The flue "also causes people to miss days of work, miss days of school and it's something that we can prevent with a simple flu vaccine,” said Brenda Campbell, a registered nurse. “So, it's a really good idea to get the flu vaccine.”

Flu season generally starts at the end of October — and can last through April. Experts say the shot, if you get it, should remain effective for nine months. Acension-Borgess has a number of upcoming flu clinics where the vaccine will be available.

“I need to be ready for it. And I don’t have any problems getting it now,” said Lois Blank of Portage, Michigan. “The faster you get it, the better off you are.”

Although reports say last year's shot was only 40 percent effective, health officials say it's still the best way to protect yourself.

“So far the flu that we've seen circulating is covered by the vaccine,” Campbell said. “We don't know what the future will bring but they do their best to get the vaccine formulated so that it will prevent flu. And even if you were to get flu, you would likely have a milder case of it.”

Experts say everyone 6 months and older should get the shot before the end of October. Also recommended is frequent and thorough hand washing, and the use of hand sanitizer during flu season.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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