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The deaths of two Iowa women last week from flu complications should serve as a reminder to everyone. If you haven’t gotten a flu shot yet, please get one.

It’s difficult to predict just what kind of flu season awaits each year. The flu isn’t a single virus. Different strains pop up in different years. Scientists make their best guess when preparing a year’s flu vaccine, which targets the strains believed to be most likely in the upcoming flu season. But the results vary considerably.

Some years the vaccine is a good match. Getting a shot drastically reduces your chances of getting sick. Other years something unexpected happens, and a different strain of the flu runs loose. The shot still helps, medical experts say, but a lot more people feel a lot more miserable.

Australia is coming off a bad flu season. They’re in the southern hemisphere, remember, so they are just getting into the spring. Their bad luck this year is no guarantee this winter will bring more flu cases than normal, but it has experts watching closely.

In terms of public health advances, few things have made a bigger difference in the past century than the widespread use of vaccines to control disease. Illnesses that were almost a childhood rite of passage just a generation ago are now a rarity. And, while some may question whether a shot to prevent chicken pox is really worth it, those who have had a bout of shingles as adults know the value of keeping the virus out of your system to begin with.

A flu shot is a cheap, effective way to protect yourself and your family. It’s not fun, we know. Being jabbed in the arm by a needle never is. But that temporary “ouch!” is a lot better than several days fighting off the flu.

The federal Centers for Disease Control recommends vaccination for everyone age six months and older, and they recommend it every year. It’s especially important for the elderly, the very young, and people who have other conditions that might make the flu more dangerous than it would be most of the time. There are some rare exceptions, but those need to be established in consultation with your doctor.

It takes about two weeks for the vaccination to fully take effect. With the flu spreading in Iowa now, you don’t want to wait. Getting the shot after the flu is widespread will leave you more vulnerable than you probably want to be. Going now means you’ll be protected by the time the flu season hits its peak.

Remember, getting a flu shot isn’t just about your own health. It’s about avoiding spreading the flu to your family, your friends and your coworkers. Sharing is fine in most cases, but this is one in which people really prefer not to do so.

We hope this won’t be a bad flu season, but there’s no way to really know just yet. The only guarantee is that a quick poke in the arm from a flu vaccination can make a difference.

The Ottumwa Courier