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Time To Get That Flu Shot, JMU Prof Says

Randi B. Hagi

While fall and winter are typically touted as “flu season,” the flu can strike at any time of year.  WMRA’s Randi B. Hagi reports.

Audrey Burnett is a Health Sciences professor at James Madison University, and she’s an expert in infectious diseases.  She says that, while there isn’t a strict “flu season,” it’s a good time to get your flu shot right now, if you haven’t already.

AUDREY BURNETT: Because largely we tend to stay indoors more so in, say, the late fall and through the winter, we’re coming into contact, closer quarters, with other individuals who might actually harbor the flu.

Burnett gets her yearly flu shot early, in August. She says the stakes are higher than just protecting herself from feeling under the weather.

BURNETT: Classes start in late August, I’m coming into contact potentially with flu carriers – they’re not showing symptoms but they’re still contagious, or even students who are in fact sick with the flu. And so, just to protect myself, and then as well as my family members. I have a toddler at home, and so of course I want to protect her as much as I can, because especially young children, and then, of course, older adults tend to have more complications associated with the flu, and those complications could lead to death. So, you know, why not take the precautions that we do have?

However, being vaccinated does not absolutely guarantee that you won’t get sick.  Burnett says that three to four different strains of the flu are prominent each year, and vaccine developers have to make a decision about which ones pose the greatest threat.

BURNETT: Because it is largely an educated guess based on computer models and statistics that the CDC will run, in conjunction with pharmaceutical companies, et cetera, and other scientists … they do a good job, but sometimes, you know, there may be a strain that we don’t include in the vaccine. And so someone might actually come in contact with that random strain.

But she knows that regardless of the technology or services available, some patients cannot -- or will not -- be vaccinated.

BURNETT: Because of chronic conditions, or they may be allergic to an ingredient in the flu vaccine, or it could be a philosophical or religious belief that’s preventing them from being vaccinated. But those of us who can be, should be, and essentially that does kind of spark this concept of herd immunity … It’s almost as though, the more of us [who are] vaccinated, we serve as a buffer.

At the very least, she says, we can all wash our hands.