Healthy Living: Changes to this year's flu shot

SEATTLE -- It may seem like everyone around you is getting sick. If you have managed to stay healthy, UW Medicine doctors say take this opportunity to get your flu shot!

The flu viruses circulating this year are expected to be strong.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say we need to take this flu season seriously. While it is still too early to know just how severe the virus will be, or how effective the flu shot will be, the CDC says a child and several adults have already died in California from the flu.

UW Medicine’s Dr. John Lynch is the medical director of infection control at Harborview Medical Center. He says regardless of the severity, there’s strength in numbers when it comes to the flu.

“Herd immunity for the influenza vaccine is probably the most important parts of the flu vaccine effort," Lynch said. "So the more of us who get vaccinated the more effective it is.”

Doctors say the vaccine has been updated to better match viruses that are expected to be strong this year. It will attack four different viruses, which includes the severe influenza A.

And even if it's not a match for what goes around this time, Dr. Lynch says the immunity boost provided by the vaccine is designed to make the flu less severe - if you get that shot.

“Even if the flu vaccine is preventing 20 percent or 30 percent of flu infections," he said, "that’s a huge number of people who don’t get infected and don’t get sick. Also importantly, the flu vaccine probably also attenuates how bad the infection is. So you may get flu, but you don’t end up in the doctor’s office, or you may end up in the doctor’s office but you don’t end up in the hospital. Or if you’re in the hospital, you don’t end up in the ICU.”

The CDC recommends everyone 6 months and older get vaccinated because it takes about two weeks to really kick in. The flu virus typically starts late fall.

“Never too late," Dr. Lynch said. "So what we really want to tell people is get it whenever it’s convenient for you, before the flu season if possible, but even if we’re right into the middle of flu season it’s worth getting the flu vaccine.”

The flu season in Australia happens before ours and health experts say they had a pretty rough season that started early. Doctors are stressing the importance of getting that shot before October ends.