MANKATO — Medical providers and health agencies are urging the public to get the flu shot as peak flu season nears.

This year’s flu season could be an especially bad one, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned. Already an Owatonna teenager has died of a flu-like illness.

Health officials are strongly recommending vaccination, despite changes to the flu strain that could make the vaccine less effective.

The vaccine won’t cause the flu and is safe for everyone, including pregnant mothers and young children. The CDC recommends that everyone older than 6 months get vaccinated.

“What you can have is you can have some light body aches,” said Jessica Sheehy, a physician assistant in the infectious diseases department at Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato. “You can have a low-grade fever. Those are normal things that mean that the flu shot is working. That’s your body’s way of building up a response to the flu vaccine.”

The Free Press talked with Sheehy about this year’s vaccine and what the public can to do stay protected.

Q:What’s happening with this year’s flu shot?

A: There’s a group of scientists that develop the flu shot, and they get together in about February of the year before, and they come up with the strains they believe are going to be most prevalent that year. Some years it works better than others, and some of the years they guess better than other years.

This year they came up with the three to four strains they thought were going to be most common, and influenza A is included in that. But what we’re seeing this year is antigenic drift, which is a phenomenon that happens with the flu virus where the particles on the outside of it change a little bit. It’s kind of like an evolution of the virus, and as those particles change, it can change it into different strains, and so the flu vaccine may not be 100 percent efficacious against those drifted strains.

That being said, you will still have some protection against these new strains that we’re seeing, because at their base, they’re still influenza and and the vaccine does still have influenza A in it.

Q: What can people do to lessen their chances of getting the flu?

A: Getting your flu shots is the number one thing you can do. It still covers three to four strains, and it’s still going to offer some help with these strains.

If you’re sick, stay home. If you’ve been exposed to someone who has the flu and you start to come with flu symptoms, one major thing you can do is getting antiviral treatment. … It has to be started, preferably the sooner the better, but usually within at least the first 72 hours of symptoms.

Q: How long does it take for the flu shot to take effect?

A: Usually about two to three weeks before the flu shot takes full effect, so there’s still plenty of time to get it if you haven't gotten it.

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