You meant to get the flu shot in September, but then you blinked and suddenly it's almost 2016. You're without a flu shot.
It's not too late, says the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The vaccination can be protective as long as the flu virus is circulating. Flu season starts in October, but the bug hits a peak in January or February, and can last well into May.
North Carolina saw its first reported flu-related death in October. The unseasonably warm temperatures might help keep flu infections low as more people spend time outside instead of cramped indoor spaces, but it's still too early to tell.
Since it protects against different strains every year, it's important to get the vaccine before the start of each season. Health officials and researchers from the FDA, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), and other agencies work together to predict which strains of the virus are likely to make an appearance during the next flu season. Vaccines are based on these predictions.
"The closer the match between the circulating strains causing disease and the virus strains in the vaccine, the better the protection against influenza," Marion Gruber, director of FDA's Office of Vaccine Research and Review, said in a statement.
Sometimes, however, those predictions are off. Last year the flu vaccine was reportedly only 33 percent effective against a particularly strong strain. But, health officials believe that despite the low effectiveness, people who were vaccinated recovered more quickly and had less severe symptoms than people who weren't.
The CDC tracks the flu year round and typically children and seniors are at most risk for becoming infected. Sometimes, says the FDA, a strain will disproportionately affect young and middle-age adults.
Those who do get a bad case of the flu can take one of three FDA-approved antiviral drugs: Tamiflu (oseltamivir phosphate), Relenza (zanamivir), and Rapivab (peramivir).
Aside from being vaccinated, infections can be prevented by washing hands thoroughly, covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and staying generally healthy with proper diet and exercise.