BENNINGTON -- ‘Tis the season flu season, that is, according to the Vermont Department of Health (DOH).
Although no cases have been reported this year in the Green Mountain State, cases have been reported in neighboring states and in Canada.
So how can you prepare for the imminent flu season?
For starters, the DOH advises anyone aged 6 months and older to get a flu vaccination before the season "peaks" in January.
According to the DOH, most vaccines protect against three strains of the flu virus - two A and one B strain. The A strains are responsible for a majority of flu illness, including most of the severe flu cases.
If the simple fact that getting vaccinated will benefit both you and those around you -- especially those at high-risk for contracting serious (and sometimes fatal) flu-related illnesses, like pregnant women, young children, and the elderly -- isn't reason enough to suck it up for the shot, this week (Dec. 8-Dec. 14) marks National Influenza Vaccination Week -- a week which highlights the importance of continuing flu vaccination through the holiday season and beyond.
The DOH says that this year, the flu vaccine supply is adequate, unlike previous years when the supply suffered dramatic shortages.
In Bennington, there is a plethora of places offering flu shots to those with and without insurance.
Although Southwestern Vermont Medical Center (SVMC) is no longer offering public vaccine clinics, area physician offices and the local CVS and Rite Aid Pharmacies continue to administer flu shots.
At both pharmacies, you must be over 18 years of age to get the vaccine. No appointment is necessary and most insurance plans are accepted.
If you do not have insurance, the shot will cost $31.99 and $24.99 at CVS and Rite Aid, respectively.
You can even get vaccinated while you grocery shop, as flu shots are also available in the Price Chopper and Hannaford supermarkets' pharmacies.
Both locations accept most insurance plans, like CVS and Rite Aid, and you do not need to make an appointment.
Flu shots at Price Chopper's pharmacy cost $30 without insurance.
If you choose to get your shot at Hannaford and have no insurance, the shot will cost $25. This is the only local pharmacy that requires recipients of the vaccine to be over 19 years of age.
Pharmacists at all locations recommend allotting about 15 minutes for the process, as paperwork must be completed prior to the vaccination.
According to Marcia Poedolec, an employee health nurse at SVMC certified in infection control, it's never too late to get vaccinated, although the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends getting the shot well before flu season -- usually in October or November.
"We don't often peak in this area until March or April some years, so people should not feel discouraged if they haven't gotten the shot yet," she said. "Any protection is better than zero protection."
If you are wary of needles or have a child who is not a fan of getting shots, Poedolec recommends the nasal spray version of the flu vaccine, FluMist.
"Often times, children don't like the shot. The nasal spray is less painful to get and works just as well as the shot," she said, adding that this year's version of the nasal spray combats four strains of the flu virus: two strains of A and two strains of B.
Since FluMist is a live-virus vaccine, it cannot be administered to individuals with compromised immune systems, according to the CDC. It's also not recommended for children under five-years-old, adults over 49-years-old, pregnant women, or those who suffer from a chronic disease.
If you are interested in taking a more natural flu prevention route, Korey DiRoma, a doctor of naturopathic medicine at Bennington's Stram Center for Integrative Medicine says prevention, as with most health-related issues, begins with a healthy diet.
According to DiRoma, consistently eating foods chock full of natural vitamins and minerals is one way to prevent illnesses like influenza.
"Foods high in Vitamin C like citrus are great as well as foods high in Vitamin A, which would be anything orange or yellow in color, like sweet potatoes, orange pepper, squash, and carrots," he said, adding that foods high in antioxidants are also beneficial. "That's anything purple, blue or red in color like strawberries, blackberries, raspberries, blueberries, but really anything with a purple pigment, like purple Peruvian potatoes, purple cabbages, and eggplant."
DiRoma says that during the winter, and during flu season, especially, he often recommends that his patients supplement with Vitamin D.
"Because the UV intensity of the sun is low during the winter months, we don't get as much Vitamin D, so we have to get it from our diet," he said, explaining that Vitamin D helps to activate immune cells, which in turn helps fight viruses like the flu.
According to DiRoma, Vitamin D is most often found in animal products like fish, milk, and eggs.
If you haven't already gotten the flu vaccine but plan to soon, DiRoma says that pairing certain supplements along with the vaccination helps to boost and stimulate the immune system as it builds up antibodies to the flu virus.
For instance, DiRoma says studies have shown that taking 100 mg of Panax Ginseng, also known as Asian or Korean Gingeng, four weeks prior to getting the flu vaccine and eight weeks following the vaccine seemed to reduce the risk of contracting both the flu and the common cold.
According to DiRoma, Panax Ginseng is effective because it helps stimulate natural killer cell activity -- the cells that typically fight off viruses, as does astragalus, a Chinese herb. However, there is no reliable clinical evidence that proves astragalus' effectiveness in preventing the flu.
As for natural treatment options for those who may find themselves sick with the flu, DiRoma said andrographis, (also known as Indian Echinacea) and Syberian Ginseng, when used together, significantly improve symptoms of the common cold and flu when started 72 hours within symptom onset.
Finally, elderberry is also useful in treating the flu, according to DiRoma, and comes in myriad of forms, like tea and syrups, and can be purchased at any drugstore.
DiRoma said that a standardized elderberry fruit extract in syrup form, known as Sambucol, has been known to both shorten the duration of flu symptoms, like fever and body aches, and reduce the severity of those symptoms by about 56 percent when 4 tablespoons are taken daily for three days.
Think you might be coming down with the flu? Poedolec says that symptoms of the flu come on suddenly and often mimic symptoms of the common cold.
"Usually you have a high fever of about 102, a bad headache, your joints ache, you feel extremely weak and exhausted, then there's the typical stuffy nose, sneezing, sore throat, and cough," she said, adding that if you begin to feel sick, make sure to stay home from work, school, or public places, to lessen the chances of infecting others.
Last spring, the DOH reported widespread flu activity late in the flu season, including confirmed cases and outbreaks in Bennington County.
Getting the flu vaccine is the best protection against the flu, according to the DOH, however, the department also advises these simple steps to help to lower your chances of getting sick this holiday season:
* Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve every time you sneeze or cough.
* Wash your hands often and well with soap and water. If you aren't in a place where you can wash your hands, use a hand sanitizer.
* As much as possible, keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth.
As for the idea that the flu vaccine causes the recipient of the shot to contract the flu, Poedolec says that is simply not true.
"I know many people have that misconception, but it's just not possible," she said, explaining that common side effects of the vaccine, including headache and muscle aches might lead people to think they are coming down with the flu, but usually disappear a few days after vaccination.
According to Poedolec she and her fellow employee health nurses have administered over 1,200 flu vaccinations so far this year.
For more information about flu vaccination, prevention, and treatment visit the Health Department's website at healthvermont.gov.
Contact Elizabeth A. Conkey at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @bethconkey.