A woman holds a tissue to her nose as she sits on the couch.Fall is a welcome change in Houston, with milder temperatures providing relief from the stifling summer heat. Yet, the season brings with it the potential for a deadly respiratory foe—the flu. By taking steps now, you can help prevent serious illness at the height of flu season.

Vaccine Recommendations

In the United States, flu season usually peaks between December and February, so the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that most people, ages 6 months and older, receive an influenza vaccine each year between September and the end of October. This gives the immune system time to fully prepare to fight off the virus during the peak of exposures. In the 2023-2024 CDC Flu Vaccination Recommendations, however, the CDC warns that certain groups of people should consider getting a flu shot earlier in the year, before the end of August. These include:

  • Adults, especially those 65 years old and older, and pregnant women in the first and second trimester who won’t be able to receive the vaccination in September or October.
  • Pregnant women in their third trimester can get a flu vaccine in July or August to ensure their babies are protected from flu after birth, when they are too young to get vaccinated.
  • Children who need two doses of flu vaccine should get their first dose as soon as vaccines become available. The second dose should be given at least four weeks after the first.
  • Early vaccination may also be considered for children who have health care visits during July and August if there might not be another opportunity to vaccinate them.

“For most people, 6 months and older, the flu vaccine protects from catching the flu and prevents it from spreading,” said Sofi Momin, DO, a family medicine physician with Memorial Hermann Medical Group. “It also helps prevent hospitalizations and death.”

For some people, however, the annual flu vaccine isn’t recommended. Dr. Momin says these include individuals with severe, life-threatening allergies to any ingredient in the vaccine, some with a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome and others with rare conditions. She recommends speaking to a doctor about your specific health history before getting a flu vaccine.

Types of Flu Vaccines

According to Dr. Momin, there are different types of flu vaccines approved for different age groups.. For people 65 years and older, the CDC recommends three specific vaccines—Fluzone, Flublok and Fluad—for people. Fluzone is a high-dose quadrivalent vaccine, which means the immune response it creates in the body is four times stronger than with standard flu vaccines. Flublok, another quadrivalent vaccine, is manufactured without the use of eggs and is recommended for those who are allergic to eggs. Fluad is a standard-dose vaccine but is made with an ingredient, called an adjuvant, that helps trigger a stronger immune response to the vaccine.

While these three types of vaccines are recommended for people 65 years and older, if none of these three vaccines is available, Dr. Momin says a standard flu vaccine is better than no vaccine at all. “This is important because people in this age group are at higher risk for severe illness and death,” she said.

For those younger than 65, the CDC does not recommend any one flu vaccine over another, Dr. Momin notes. Vaccine options for younger individuals include the recombinant influenza vaccine, the live attenuated influenza vaccine and the inactivated influenza vaccine. However, the live attenuated flu vaccine is not recommended for use in pregnant women and those with immunocompromised conditions.

Other Respiratory Viruses

Meanwhile, COVID-19 continues to circulate throughout the population, Dr. Momin says, and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus­) cases generally increase during the fall, winter and spring, creating other respiratory threats.

“We are currently seeing a rise in COVID-19 cases, likely because more people are traveling and gathering together this summer, and the virus continues to mutate,” she said. “We’re expecting the presence of all three viruses this flu season.”

It’s important to address misconceptions about the timing of the vaccines. “There’s a common misconception that you can’t receive the flu and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time,” Dr. Momin said. “A study from July 2022, cited by the CDC, shows that people who received a flu vaccine and a COVID-19 booster simultaneously were 8% to -11% more likely to experience reactions such as muscle aches, headaches and fatigue, compared with people who only received a COVID-19 booster, but these side effects were mostly mild and resolved quickly.”

The CDC reports that a vaccine to help protect adults 60 years and older and those with certain underlying medical conditions from RSV is also available. Dr. Momin says that individuals at risk for more severe RSV infections should talk to their health care provider about this vaccination’s benefits and risks.

Protecting Yourself and Your Family

In addition to getting your recommended vaccines, Dr. Momin suggests ways to protect yourself and your family from the flu and other respiratory illnesses this season. She advises maintaining a healthy lifestyle by staying physically active, getting adequate sleep, staying well hydrated and eating a nutritious diet.

She also recommends:

  • Disinfecting frequently touched surfaces at home and work, 
  • Staying home and staying away from others when you don’t feel well
  • Avoiding contact with others who are ill
  • Covering your mouth and nose when sneezing and coughing
  • Frequently and thoroughly washing your hands with soap and water
  • Refraining from touching your eyes, nose and mouth as much as possible

“The pandemic has put our focus on COVID-19, but we can’t ignore that the flu causes many hospitalizations and deaths each year,” Dr. Momin said. “The key to managing these viruses is to use the protective measures available and to remain vigilant to stop their spread.”

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