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Winter is coming: Get your flu shot

The leaves have turned glorious colors, there is a familiar nip in the morning air, and menu planning turns from backyard barbecues to soups and stews. Fall is a great time of the year, and all those things should prompt everyone to prepare for winter by getting your flu shot.

Here are the facts:

You cannot get the flu from a flu shot. The most likely side effect is some soreness at the injection site, muscle aches and a headache, and maybe a low-grade fever. That’s not the flu. It’s your immune system responding to the vaccine and strengthening its defenses.

No, the flu shot is not foolproof. Flu viruses mutate and change constantly, so the experts match each year’s vaccine to the strains most prevalent the year before. Public health officials also keep a close eye on the Southern Hemisphere, where the seasons are reversed, for more recent data. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Australia saw flu cases peak earlier than usual this year, and the flu season was a tough one, with the H3N2 virus the predominant strain. H3N2 causes more severe illness, especially among the elderly, more hospitalizations and more deaths.

Yes, the flu can and does kill. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that in the 2018-19 flu season, between 36,000 and 61,000 people in the United States died from the flu.

Even if a flu strain emerges that isn’t part of this year’s vaccine, health officials say it’s still better to get a flu shot. The vaccine protects against various strains that often circulate together, and research shows that even if you do get sick, the vaccine will lessen the duration and severity of the illness.

Getting the shot also helps protect others, such as infants 6 months old and younger, and adults with compromised immune systems who cannot be vaccinated.

It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to become effective, so the CDC recommends that everyone over 6 months should get the shot by the end of October.

The Oregon Health Authority, which annually starts tracking cases of flu on Oct. 1, reports 16 positive test results for influenza in the past week, five of those in Southern Oregon. That’s not many, but the season has only just begun. Now is the time to protect yourself and your loved ones.