Flu season is just around the corner and officials recommend getting a flu shot soon. (The Enterprise/Pat Caldwell)

VALE – The flu is no joke, and the new season is here.

A common malady that sweeps across the U.S. every fall and winter, the flu virus arrives in different forms and can be deadly.

But there is an easy way to avoid the virus, officials say.

“The most effective way to stop the flu is get a flu shot,” said Scott Pauley of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.

Flu shots, available at local pharmacies and doctor’s offices, provide a level of protection throughout the year, said Kathy Coleman, clinical educator at Saint Alphonsus Medical Center Ontario.

“Any of the flu vaccines will reduce your risk of contracting it ­– and if you do contract it, you should have a less severe case of the flu,” said Coleman.

Influenza can lead to hospitalization and even death. Every flu season is different in severity, but millions of Americans fall victim to the virus each year.

There are several ways to get the flu vaccine. The traditional shot uses a needle to inject a vaccine that fights off three or four influenza viruses. Another method is a nasal spray. A third method sometimes used is through a jet injector, which uses a high-pressure, narrow stream of fluid to penetrate the skin instead of a needle.

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Between 3% and 11% of the U.S. population is infected by the flu each year.

“For certain age groups, over 60 and under 10, it is more important (to get immunized) than others,” said Wendy Springer, a pharmacist at Malheur Drug in Vale.

The flu vaccine is typically good for a year, said Springer.

Flu season usually peaks between December and February, though cases have been reported as late as May.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are four types of influenza virus – A, B, C and D.

Influenza A and B viruses typically infect humans. Influenza A viruses are further divided into subtypes based on two proteins – hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N) - on the surface of the virus. The most recent subtypes of influenza A affecting humans are H1N1 and H3N2, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

This year, the flu vaccine will guard against three subtype viruses: H1N1, or Brisbane; H3N2, or Kansas and an Influenza B subtype, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Flu viruses change in several ways every year. One way they change is through what is called “antigenic drift.” Antigenic drift refers to small mutations in the genes of the influenza virus that happen constantly as the virus replicates.

A second way the virus can change from year to year is through “antigenic shift.” This is a sudden, major change in the influenza A viruses, but it happens rarely.

Every year the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention researches which flu virus is most likely to occur in the U.S. and then orders vaccines to be made by private firms. Three production methods are used – egg-based flu vaccine, cell-based flu vaccine and recombinant flu vaccine.

The egg-based flu vaccine is the most common process used to make flu vaccines.

Once the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determines the year’s most likely flu villain, it furnishes it to the manufacturers, who then inject it into fertilized hen’s eggs. The eggs incubate for several days – to allow the virus to grow – and then the fluid in the egg is collected. After that, the influenza viruses in the egg fluid are killed and the fluid purified and tested.

While the details of influenza structure interest scientists and doctors, avoiding the bug is more important for most people. The reality is clear-cut: The flu isn’t fun.

Symptoms include a fever – though not all who suffer from flu run one – cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headache and fatigue.

Insurance usually covers the cost of a flu shot, said Springer. Without insurance, flu shots typically range from $25 to $40 locally.

Coleman urged residents to get their flu shots as soon as possible.

“I would get it this week or next if available, so you are covered as the season progresses,” said Coleman.

Angelica Resindiz, a registered nurse and the immunization coordinator for the Malheur County Health Department, said there is no time to lose when it comes to a flu shot.

“We recommend it before the end of October to get the best protection this season,” said Resindiz.

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