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Lori Wolfe/The Herald-Dispatch Nursing student Nick Whitmore gives flu shots during Marshall University's Health and Wellness Fair on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018, at the Memorial Student Center.

HUNTINGTON - Football season is just beginning in West Virginia and public health officials are already preparing for flu season.

It's a bit early for the shot itself, but the Cabell-Huntington Health Department is urging the public to make getting vaccinated an early priority to be covered through spring, avoiding what could be an extra miserable winter with a bout of the flu.

"It's a little early since the new shipments (of vaccines) haven't even been shipped out," said Kathleen Napier, CHHD director of nursing. "But it's recommend to get it once a year, and September is not too early to be getting the flu shot."

Vaccinations remain at full strength for about six months and will cover an individual for around nine months, Napier said. This means a shot in September would be at full strength at the region's general peak for the flu around late January through February, while remaining viable well into spring.

For many, the flu shot is an afterthought, while others may have some aversion to it - whether they're nervous about needles or the false fear of catching the virus through the injection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that almost 60% of children and teens got a flu shot in 2016, but only about 41% of adults did.

Vaccinations are developed through dead flu viruses the immune system is introduced to attack, meaning the shot itself does not cause the flu, Napier added.

Some may have a minor reaction, as with any inoculation, like a sore arm or body aches, but those side effects are not comparable to the virus itself.

An annual flu vaccination may also stimulate the immune system's "memory" in fighting the infection each season, though the flu does mutate over time, meaning the new vaccination itself may be different each year as different strains develop.

Flu surveillance for the 2019-20 season has not started yet, and Napier said it can't yet be predicted which strains will be active or how active the flu will be this coming year.

The flu shot is generally around 60% effective at preventing the disease, though it's far better than no protection from a virus that kills tens of thousands of Americans each year. The CDC estimates about 80,000 Americans died of influenza-related illnesses during the 2017-18 season.

Vaccinations are readily available at most medical providers, including many pharmacies, and the Cabell-Huntington Health Department will continue to offer free vaccinations at its clinic beginning Sept. 9.

The health department will kick off its annual vaccination efforts with an early Halloween-themed event "Say BOO to the Flu" from 4 to 6 p.m. Sept. 9 at the health department, located at 703 7th Ave. in Huntington.

In addition to free flu shots, the event will feature free food, inflatables for children, and costume contests for children, adults and pets. The event is sponsored by the Cabell/Wayne Medical Reserve Corps.

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