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Influenza season begins Oct. 1: Experts recommend getting a flu shot sooner rather than later

School is back in session, the weather is starting to get cooler and Oct. 1 will be here before you know it.

What makes Oct. 1 significant is this is the unofficial start date of flu season and health care providers will soon begin urging people to get their annual flu shots.

“The vaccines are safe, effective and save lives,” said Dr. Kathryn Moffett, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at WVU Medicine. “Every year 35,000 people die of the flu.”

Flu season typically ends in late May, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. Surprisingly, West Virginia does not track actual flu cases. There were no flu-related deaths reported in the state during the 2018-19 flu season.

Statistics, however, from the DHHR show influenza-like illness peaked in the eighth week and tapered off during the 14th week last year

“Influenza is a difficult disease to quantify in the first place, as many healthy individuals who become ill with influenza do not seek medical attention or have a laboratory-confirmed diagnosis,” Laura Spadafora, flu coordinator for the state Department of Health and Human Services, said in an email.

Locally, the Monongalia County Health Department and other local health care providers will receive their flu vaccines within a matter of days. County health officials vaccinated 650 people last year and expect to do the same amount this year. The county vaccine costs $25 and can be billed to insurance.

“We used to do more a long time ago,” said Jennifer Goldcamp, the health department’s program manager for clinical services. “Now we have pharmacies and hospitals offering flu shots.”

(There are more than 20 locations in Greater Morgantown to get a flu shot, according to

The influenza vaccine is typically reconfigured twice a year because the virus changes. Each year the World Health Organization’s Global Influenza Surveillance Network chooses three influenza strains for next year’s vaccine usually the H1N1, H3N2, and Type-B strains. The choice is based on flu activity in the Southern Hemisphere, where seasons are the reverse, the CDC said.

What’s in a flu shot?

Flu is highly contagious. It targets the lungs, the nose and throat. Older adults, young children, pregnant women and individuals with compromised immune systems are the most susceptible to the virus. It can be spread by saliva, coughing or a contaminated surface.

Plus, flu spreads easier in cold weather because the air is dryer and easier to move around. Cold weather does not cause flu, said.

According to the CDC, an infected person is contagious one day before they begin to show any symptoms of the virus. Typically, people remain contagious five to seven days after any symptoms show up.

The CDC recommends influenza vaccines for anyone 6 months and older. It is especially important for older adults and people with compromised immune systems to get the flu shots. Flu mists can also be used as a vaccine for ages 2 to 45, said Moffett. It takes roughly two weeks for the vaccine to become effective, she added.

All vaccines have small amounts of the virus they are designed to protect against in order to trigger the body’s defense mechanisms. Other ingredients include chicken egg proteins, thimerosal — a preservative that keeps the vaccine free from contamination by bacteria and fungi — aluminum salts, an adjuvant, and formaldehyde, which inactivates toxins from viruses and bacteria that may contaminate the vaccine during production. The vaccines are made by private companies with Sanofi Pasteur of France being the largest manufacturer.

All flu vaccines are designed to protect against three or four strains of the virus that is most likely to spread during the upcoming flu season. The composition of the vaccine is reviewed annually based on information from flu centers in 100 countries, the CDC said.

Flu samples are then sent to five WHO centers in Atlanta, London, Australia, Japan and China. Officials there meet in February to determine the vaccine for the Northern Hemisphere and in September for the Southern Hemisphere.

The final decision about what goes into the U.S. flu shots is made by the Food and Drug Administration, which makes that determination in February. The vaccines are typically effective for one year.

Moffett, who calls herself a vaccine advocate, said flu shots are not perfect and don’t provide a foolproof guarantee the recipient won’t get the flu.

“They are about 70 to 90 percent effective,” she said.

“For most of us, it keeps us from getting the flu.”

The best time to get a flu shot is at the beginning of the flu season, but anytime is a good time, Moffett said. Anyone can find out where flu vaccinations are available in their area at

Despite the recent surge in anti-vaccination supporters, the state leads the nation in childhood vaccinations. In her experience, Moffett said those kinds of groups have not affected people getting flu shots.

“There are a lot of misconceptions out there about whether vaccines are safe,” Moffett said. “Maybe there will one day be a vaccine and we’ll be protected for life. That would be lovely.”

Be smart
If you do get sick, be smart and don’t spread the virus, Spadafora said.

Since 2010, the CDC estimated influenza has resulted in between 140,000 and 960,000 hospitalizations each year,

Avoid contact with sick people and wash your hands often. It’s important to cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing. Also, if your doctor suggests antiviral (prescription) drugs, take them.

“If you’re really sick, then you should not go out,” Moffett said. “Cough into your sleeve and use a hand sanitizer.”

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