As school children settle back into classrooms and fall approaches, so does the onset of flu season. Flu vaccines are already being offered around the area in preparation against the illness.

As school children settle back into classrooms and fall approaches, so does the onset of flu season.

Flu vaccines are already being offered around the area in preparation against the illness.

Seasonal flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. It spreads between people and can cause mild to severe illness.

Flu spreads mainly by droplets when people who have flu talk, cough, or sneeze, and these droplets land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or are inhaled. Less often, a person might get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes.

People can spread flu to others from one day before they have symptoms to 5-7 days after they get sick. This can be longer in children and people who are very sick.

Most people who get sick with flu will recover in a few days to less than two weeks.

But millions get sick with flu each year and thousands are hospitalized. CDC estimates that since 2010, between 7,000 and 28,000 children younger than 5 years old have been hospitalized for flu each year in the United States. Children with chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, and disorders of the brain or nervous system, and children younger than 5 years old (and especially children younger than 2 years old) are more likely to end up in the hospital from flu.

Some people at high risk can develop complications (such as pneumonia) that can result in hospitalization and even death.

Flu season in the U.S.

In the United States, flu season generally starts in October and tapers off around May. Seasonal flu activity usually peaks in January or February.

Each year approximately 5-20 percent of U.S. residents get the flu and each year it kills more than 36,000 people and hospitalizes 200,000 more, according to nih.gov. NIAID scientists worldwide are working together to find better ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat seasonal and pandemic influenza, including H1N1 flu.

In the state

In the past year — from Sept. 1, 2018, to now — Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) reports 2,997 flu-related hospitalizations — 88 of which ended in death.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), at cdc.gov, recommends a flu vaccine by the end of October, before flu begins spreading in the community. Getting vaccinated later, however, can still be beneficial and vaccination should continue to be offered throughout the flu season, even into January or later, the CDC website reports.

The CDC also reports pregnant women can and should get the flu vaccine. Flu vaccines given during pregnancy help protect both mother and baby.

Flu viruses are constantly changing, the CDC reports, so new vaccines are made each year to protect against the flu viruses that are likely to cause the most illness.

CDC conducts studies each year to determine how well the flu vaccine protects against flu illness. Recent studies show vaccine can reduce the risk of flu illness by about 50-60 percent among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are like the viruses the flu vaccine is designed to protect against.

Problem is, sometimes the vaccine doesn’t line up with what’s circulating.

How well the flu vaccine works (or its ability to prevent flu illness) can range widely from season to season. According to the CDC, at least two factors play an important role in determining the likelihood that flu vaccine will protect a person from flu illness: 1) characteristics of the person being vaccinated (such as their age and health), and 2) the similarity or “match” between the flu viruses the flu vaccine is designed to protect against and the flu viruses spreading in the community. During years when the flu vaccine is not well matched to circulating viruses, it’s possible that no benefit from flu vaccination may be observed.

In general, the flu vaccine works best among healthy adults and older children. Some older people and people with certain chronic illnesses might develop less immunity after vaccination. However, even for these people, the flu vaccine still may provide some protection.

Antiviral drugs are also an important second line of defense against the flu. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines that fight against the flu in your body. Antiviral drugs are different from antibiotics, which fight against bacterial infections.

Antiviral drugs can make illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They also can prevent serious flu complications, like pneumonia.

Most otherwise-healthy people who get the flu, however, do not need to be treated with antiviral drugs.

Despite popular rumors, the CDC reports that flu vaccines do not cause flu. Flu vaccines (given as a shot) are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with

• flu viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ (killed) and are therefore not infectious; or

• using only a single gene from a flu virus (as opposed to the full virus) in order to produce an immune response without causing infection.

However, flu shots can sometimes cause mild side effects that may be mistaken for flu. Keep in mind that it will take about two weeks after getting a vaccine for your child to build protection against flu, according to the CDC.

Protection provided by flu vaccination does wears off over time, so vaccination will be needed again each year as flu season nears, according to the CDC.

CVS Pharmacy, at 4500 W. Kickapoo in Shawnee, confirmed it is already offering flu shots onsite. For more information, call (405) 878-0244 or visit cvs.com.

Keep track

The CDC tracks flu activity in the United States year round and produces a weekly report of flu activity from October through mid-May.

The CDC FluView report for the new season will begin in October.

To stay up-to-date with the report, visit http://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/usmap.htm.