'One of the most important things you can do all winter': It's not too early to get that flu shot

ST. LOUIS (KMOX) — You have probably seen the signs at your local drug store — get your flu shots today. That might not be a bad idea, because it looks like this could be a nasty flu season.

The H3N2 flu strain dominated Australia's flu season, where winter has just ended. And what happens in the Southern Hemisphere can be an indication of what could happen here in the Northern Hemisphere. That's why local doctors say it's critical to get this year's flu shot.

"I would say it's one of the most important things you can do all winter," Dr. Kristina Anderson tells KMOX. Dr. Anderson is a primary care physician with SSM Health Medical Group. "It helps keep people out of the hospital and keeps people at work. No one has time to be sick, especially not with influenza because it can be pretty serious."

But is it too early to get a flu shot?

"On average, the influenza vaccine lasts about six months," Dr. Anderson said. "But it's kind of tough to predict when the flu season will start when it will peak and when it will end. We saw flu cases into April last year. I usually say late September or early October is the perfect time to get the flu shot. That way you will get coverage through April without putting yourself at undue risk early in the season."

The CDC says last year's flu season was the longest in a decade — with as many as 43 million flu illnesses across the country.

Dr. Anderson says those most at risk for the flu include anyone younger than 5 — but especially younger than 2 — anyone over 65, and those with serious health conditions.

"If you are in one of those high-risk groups, it can be very dangerous," said Dr. Anderson. "You could end up in the intensive care unit, you could get pneumonia, all kinds of terrible things."

And even if this year's vaccine isn't a perfect match for whatever flu strains may be out there this season, Dr. Anderson says it still does some good.

"If you do get the flu after getting the flu vaccine, it can help decrease the severity of the flu by about half."

And to those who claim they got the flu after getting the vaccine, Dr. Anderson says that's not possible.

"For the most part, the flu shot is made with dead particles so that it irritates the immune system essentially without giving you the flu virus," said Dr. Anderson.  "Your body is just naturally responding to that by making you feel kind of bad.  So it's actually your own immune system that's revving up and doing its job that makes you feel kind of achy.  So yes, some people have a little bit of low-grade fever or some muscle aches, but it's nothing compared to the real flu."

SSM Health will be offering free flu shot clinics from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, Oct. 12, at all of its adult hospitals except St. Louis University Hospital.

All SSM Health flu clinics are for those 9 years old and older. SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Hospital is the only location that will vaccinate children aged 6 months and older.

For all of the flu clinics, vaccinations are available by injection only. There will not be a preservative-free option. Pregnant women are advised to obtain a flu shot from their primary care physician. No appointments are necessary. Participants should wear loose-fit clothing. Flu shots will be given on a first-come, first-served basis and are available while supplies last.

Locations of the free SSM Health flu clinics are listed below:

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