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Influenza season, commonly known as flu season, typically picks up in October and lingers on through March, according to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention, and experts say the best time to get a flu shot is sometime this month to have optimal protection against the different strains of the virus.

Influenza strains are constantly changing which makes it difficult to track which strains will be most prevalent this year, the CDC said. Experts say there may have been a reduction in population immunity against the common flu since people stayed home and away from crowds throughout the pandemic. This could mean that this year’s flu season could start early and possibly be more severe, according to the CDC.

In Long Beach, the seasonal flu killed nine people in 2018, seven people in 2019 and eight people in 2020, according to data from the Long Beach Health and Human Services Department. There were less flu cases reported in Long Beach last year as more people worked and attended school from home, according to health department spokeswoman Jennifer Rice Epstein.

This year, similar to the later half of last year, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to hang over communities. One key difference is the abundance of vaccines aimed at preventing severe symptoms of the novel virus.

Here’s what health experts say communities should do:

When to get a flu shot

Typically, September and October are the optimal months to get a flu shot, the CDC said. Ideally, getting a flu shot before October would provide sufficient protection from the flu virus strains throughout the rest of the year.

It’s recommended that adults 65 years and older should not get the flu shot too early, such as July or August, because the defense it provides weakens over time.

Children can get the flu shot as soon as it becomes available and sometimes a second dose is required, according to the CDC. People who are in the third trimester of pregnancy should also consider getting a flu shot early because this can help protect their infants who are too young to be vaccinated.

Flu shots are available for people 6 months and older, according to the CDC.

Can I get a flu shot if I have a COVID vaccine

The Long Beach Health and Human Services Department said it is safe to get a flu shot and a COVID-19 vaccine at the same time. While the CDC said that limited data is available on administering COVID-19 vaccines with other vaccines, past experiences show that the human body develops protection and potential side effects in a generally similar way whether vaccines are given alone or in combination with other vaccines, according to the CDC.

Experts advise speaking with a personal health provider if there are any concerns.

People who should not get the flu shot are those with severe, life-threatening allergies to any ingredient in the flu vaccine, Long Beach health experts said. Those who are unsure of whether their allergies could affect their ability to get vaccinated should contact their personal healthcare provider.

Can a flu vaccine protect against COVID

A seasonal flu shot does not offer protection against COVID-19 and a COVID-19 vaccine does not offer protection against the flu. Each is designed to target a specific virus.

“Getting a flu vaccine is the best protection against flu and its potentially serious complications, and getting a COVID-19 vaccine is the best protection against COVID-19,” the CDC said.

This year, the CDC said that flu shots were designed to protect against four different strains of the flu.

Do I have COVID or the flu

Since both flu viruses and the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19 share similar symptoms, health experts recommend patients to still get tested for COVID-19 if they develop symptoms including fever and chills, a cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste of smell, a sore throat, congestion or a runny nose and nausea or vomiting.

The CDC said that there are tests that can detect both COVID-19 and the flu.

“Testing for these viruses at the same time gives public health officials important information about how flu and COVID-19 are spreading and what prevention steps people should take,” according to the CDC website.

In Long Beach, those tested for COVID-19 are also tested for the flu, according to the health department.

Where to get a flu shot

Most pharmacies and personal healthcare providers offer flu shots. The Long Beach health department is offering pop-up flu clinics throughout October. The first clinic this month will take place this Friday from 9 a.m. to noon at Scherer Park.

Schedule of flu clinics in October 2021 hosted by the Long Beach Health and Human Services Department. Courtesy photo City of Long Beach.