Feb. 27 (UPI) -- Is it too late to get a flu shot? The simple answer is "no," according to medical professionals.
Doctors and experts say getting a flu shot at this point in the season still has benefit, as it isn't over yet, and the vaccination could help avoid dealing with a high fever, body aches, fatigue and weakness for several days.
This flu season, which is one of the worst in the United States in several years, started in October and is projected to last into March. Because it takes about two weeks for antibodies to develop from the vaccine, there is still time to get the shot and for it to be effective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"It's not too late to get a flu vaccine this season," Kristen Nordlund, a spokesperson at the CDC, told UPI. "CDC recommends that anyone over the age of 6 months get vaccinated before the end of October, but as long a flu is circulating, it's not too late. "
She said based on surveillance data, the CDC is starting to see an increase in Influenza B cases even as Influenza A H3N2 cases go down.
The CDC recommends that children, who need two doses of vaccine to be protected, should start the vaccination process sooner, because they must be given at least four weeks apart.
"There's still time to get the flu shot. The flu shot helps lessen symptoms and protects those around you as well," Dr. Mary Barsanti-Sekhar, a primary care physician at Loyola Medicine in Maywood, Ill. said in a press release.
Between Jan. 27 and Feb. 17, Loyola Medicine's doctors had 962 positive flu diagnoses from more than 2,400 patients tested. In all, 1,836 cases of flu have been diagnosed at Loyola's hospitals and doctor's offices, compared with 726 positive cases in 2016-17.
On Friday, the CDC reported in its weekly surveillance report that flu cases dropped for the first time. During the seventh week of the season, 6.4 percent of people who visited their doctors complained of flu-like illness compared with 7.5 percent the previous week.
The CDC reported that flu activity remained high in 39 states. In three states -- Florida, Idaho and Washington, they experienced low activity and others -- Maine, Montana and North Dakota -- showed only minimal activity.
A total of 21,279 confirmed flu-related hospitalizations were reported between October 1 and February 17, according to the CDC. The overall hospitalization rate was 74.5 per 100,000 population.
On Feb.15, the CDC estimated the effective rate was 25 percent against influenza A and 42 percent against influenza B.
"Even with current vaccine effectiveness estimates, vaccination will still prevent influenza illness, including thousands of hospitalizations and deaths," the CDC estimates.
For the 2017-2018 season, manufacturers projected between 151 million and 166 million doses of injectable vaccine would be available in the United States, but interest has been strong in getting a flu shot -- and has not waned.
"Since mid-December, CVS Pharmacy and MinuteClinic locations nationwide have seen a high number of patients requesting the flu vaccine," Amy Lanctot, senior public relations manager with CVS Health, told UPI. "The number has started to drop off in the last couple of weeks."
As an incentive, CVS is still offering a $5 coupon inside CVS Pharmacy, and MinuteClinic locations inside select Target stores are giving out a $5 Target coupon.
Walgreen's is also offering flu shots, including a no-cost option for veterans, through March 31 at its clinics.
The flu vaccine is generally delivered using an injectible form. FluMist Quadrivalent has returned to the CDC's recommended list of flu vaccines for next flu season after being removed two years ago. Although the current nasal vaccine isn't recommended by the CDC or American Academy of Pediatrics because of reduced effectiveness, FluMist is also available in limited quantifies.
If you choose not to get the vaccine, the American Academy of Family Physicians said precautions include good hand hygiene, including frequent hand wash with soap and water. People are advised to avoid touching items in public places.
And experts recommend a healthy lifestyle of rest, exercise and eating right to help ward off the flu.
It's a misconception you will get the flu from the vaccine, experts also say. The most common side effects from the shot are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling at the location of the shot. In addition, low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches may occur.