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Q&A: It's flu season — here's what you need to know

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Someone at work or school may already be sick. Maybe it's you.

Influenza season is here, and health experts are once again urging folks to get their annual flu shot.

The flu season got an early start in Wisconsin, with more than a dozen cases reported in the Badger State from Sept. 1-22, according to the Department of Health Services.

"We've already had reports of flu cases and hospitalizations due to the flu, so we want to encourage people to get their flu shots as soon as possible," State Health Officer Karen McKeown said in a news release.

Dr. Katelyn BezekWe asked Dr. Katelyn Bezek, who practices family medicine at Allina Health River Falls Clinic, to explain more about flu shots as well as other tips to avoid the dreaded illness.

When is a good time to get an annual flu shot?

Is it ever too early or too late to get vaccinated? The flu shot should be given as soon as possible. The flu has made an early start this year and Wisconsin has already had 19 cases. It takes two weeks for the shot to work, so sooner is better; although vaccinations are offered through the later winter months.

Will the shot hurt? Will it make me feel sick?

The flu shot doesn't hurt any more than other vaccines. After having the shot, some people may have a low grade fever or body aches for a short time. However, the vaccine is made from inactive, or dead, viruses so you cannot get the flu from the vaccine.

Is the flu really that dangerous?

The flu (or influenza) is a virus that causes cough, high fever, body aches and tiredness. In some cases, infection can be severe and can cause complications, including death. It is especially important to vaccinate children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with chronic medical problems as the infection is more likely to be severe in these people.

Who should get a flu shot and who shouldn't?

The flu shot is recommended for everyone ages 6 months and above. People who have had an allergic reaction to the flu shot should not have the vaccine. Those with an egg allergy or history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome should talk with their doctors about vaccination.

Besides getting vaccinated, how else can I help prevent the spread of flu?

Good handwashing is the most important thing to do. Stay home from work or school if you are ill. Cover coughs or sneezes with the crook of your elbow. Take good care of yourself with a healthy diet, regular sleep and avoid tobacco and alcohol use whenever possible.

Vaccine finder

Flu shots are available at clinics and pharmacies throughout the region. To search for vaccine locations by ZIP code, visit www.vaccinefinder.org.

Minnesota and Wisconsin health departments monitor the flu season and provide more information at at www.mdhflu.com and www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/influenza.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

(651) 301-7875
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