The aches and pains of flu season won't arrive in full force until January or February, but flu shot season starts Monday, when the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department begins offering this year's vaccine against influenza.
■ What is influenza?
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Influenza, or the flu, is a respiratory disease caused by a virus. It is spread by coughing and sneezing. Symptoms include fever, runny nose, fatigue and muscle aches.
■ Who should get the vaccine?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccinations for the following groups: children ages 6 months to 19 years, pregnant women, people 50 and older, people with chronic diseases and people who live in nursing homes. However, the vaccine is available to anyone who wants protection against the flu.
The recommendation for children ages 5 to 19 to be vaccinated is new this year.
■ What does the vaccine protect against?
The vaccine protects against three strains of the flu virus. Each year, long before flu season begins, health researchers decide which flu viruses will be most prevalent during flu season. Most years, the vaccine works well. But some years, such as last year, the vaccine isn't a good match and more people who were vaccinated get the flu.
■ When should I get vaccinated?
Flu season begins in December and January, so health officials recommend getting vaccinated in the fall for protection during the entire season. The vaccine protects against the flu for about a year.
Children who have never been vaccinated should get the vaccine early, as they need two doses, at least four weeks apart.
■ Are there enough doses of the flu vaccine?
This year, manufacturers produced more than 143 million doses for the United States — "an all-time high supply," according to the CDC. So there should be plenty of flu shots to go around.
■ Where can I get a flu shot?
The Lexington-Fayette County Health Department is offering flu shots for $25 each. The department accepts insurance, Medicare and Medicaid. To make an appointment, call (859) 288-2483 for the Newtown Pike Clinic or (859) 899-5201 for the Regency Road clinic. A complete listing of health department flu-shot clinics is online at www.lexingtonhealthdepartment.org.
The department will also hold two free flu-shot clinics. On Oct. 4, there will be a drive-thru clinic from 8 to 11 a.m. at Lexmark on Newtown Pike. On Oct. 11, it will hold a free flu-shot clinic for children 9 and younger at the Public Health Clinic South, 2433 Regency Road.
Many doctors' offices and pharmacies provide flu shots as well.