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Flu preparations: Season should be milder, and the vaccine more effective

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It'll soon be time to think about the upcoming flu season, and about getting a flu shot to guard against the virus. And health officials in Minnesota are hopeful this flu season will not be as severe as the last one.

You may remember that last winter was one of the worst flu seasons in years. Ten children died, more than 4,300 people had to be hospitalized, and dozens of schools had to cancel class days because so many children and staff were sick.

That all came about, in part, because last season's flu vaccine wasn't well-matched to the strain of flu virus that was going around. Health officials reported the vaccine was only 23 percent effective, so many people who got a flu shot still got sick.

The first shipments of this season's flu vaccine are now arriving at clinics and pharmacies in Minnesota, and health officials say it should provide a better defense against the flu virus than last year's version, according to WCCO.

The vaccine formula needs to be updated every year to protect against the flu strains that are expected to be most common. And Joe Kurland, a vaccine specialist at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, is "cautiously optimistic" this year's formula will be a good match, MPR News reports.

The challenge for health officials will be to try and counter the skepticism some people might have about the flu vaccine because of last year's severe flu season, MPR notes.

But Kurland said he thinks it'll be easier to convince people to get a flu shot this year because they want to avoid getting sick.

"People might say, 'I don't want to go through that again; let's get the flu vaccine,'" he said, according to MPR News.

Health officials also point out that even if the vaccine isn't a great match to the particular flu strain, it still can help by easing the symptoms.

Flu season typically lasts from October to April, but usually peaks in January, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It takes about two weeks after you get a flu shot for it to be fully effective, so health officials recommend you get vaccinated as early as possible.

The Minnesota Department of Health has more information about the flu and the flu vaccine here.

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