While the flu virus is present year round, flu season in the United States kicks up around the beginning of October, and according to Dr. Jena Sussex-Pizula, MD, at the University of Southern California, you should get the flu shot as soon as possible, before the season begins.
"It takes about two weeks to get full protection from a flu shot, so getting it before flu starts spreading in the community is key," she told POPSUGAR. "The shot is available now [in September] and is almost always covered by even the most basic health insurance plans." You can even get the vaccine for free at many pharmacies.
If you miss that window, make an appointment sooner than later — getting the vaccine by the end of October will grant you protection before flu cases peak, explained Dr. Honoure Lansen, MD, of One Medical. "But better late than never: if December rolls around and you haven't gotten your flu shot yet, don't hesitate. The flu shot is available throughout flu season and isn't any less effective in later months."
On the Fence About Getting the Vaccine?
You should seriously consider it, with few exceptions. "Everyone over the age of 6 months should get a flu shot, unless you've previously had an allergic reaction," said Dr. Stephanie Long, MD, at One Medical. "The flu shot is not a live vaccine, which means it cannot give you the flu. The vaccine asks your body to make an immune response, so if you feel aches or a little under the weather, it's not the flu — it's your body making the appropriate immune response."
And getting vaccinated isn't just about keeping yourself safe and healthy. You'll protect your loved ones and community as well. "It's the holiday season, and you may be around children, pregnant women, and elderly people more often," said Dr. Sussex-Pizula. "What may be a pretty terrible cough, fever, and body aches to a young adult can be life threatening to them. You can even spread influenza up to two days before you feel any symptoms. Getting a flu shot is the best option to protect the people you love from influenza."
The doctors also emphatically reiterated the importance of vigilant handwashing. "It's an excellent way to prevent transmission from hand contact," said Dr. Sussex-Pizula. "We touch our face hundreds of times per day, potentially introducing the virus into our facial mucus membranes, and handwashing can decrease this spread."