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Mom getting flu vaccine

In this file photo, Staci Lowe gets a flu shot at Dean Clinic from medical assistant Loriell Johnson as Lowe’s son, Nadim Alatout, 7, watches.

Q: How bad will flu season be this year?

A: The type of virus, length and severity of the influenza epidemic each year is largely unpredictable, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Each year, there is a flu epidemic that is generally known as flu season, which begins in October or November and lasts through March. The strains of the flu virus that are most common change each year.

Flu vaccines are chosen by the CDC based on research that suggests which strains will be most common in the coming year. The vaccine recommended this year includes four virus strains.

To best protect against the flu, the CDC recommends that everyone over the age of six months receive a flu shot before the end of October. Earlier is better than later because it takes about two weeks for the body to produce the effective antibodies to protect against the virus.

Children who have never had a flu shot or have only had one before are recommended to have two flu shots taken four weeks apart.

People who are vaccinated can still get the flu for a variety of reasons. They may have been exposed to the virus before antibodies were produced or to a virus strain not included in the vaccine, or the vaccine was not effective.

Flu vaccines may still help recovery even if you contracted the flu — the vaccine may contain protection against similar strains.

Other than getting a vaccine, people hoping to avoid getting sick should keep away from those infected and should wash their hands often. If you do have the flu, stay at home to prevent spreading it.

— Shelley K. Mesch

Send questions to: justaskus@madison.com; Just Ask Us, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI 53708.

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Send questions to: justaskus@madison.com; Just Ask Us, P.O. Box 8058, Madison, WI 53708.

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Shelley K. Mesch is a general assignment reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal. She earned a degree in journalism from DePaul University.