It's an annual routine - heading to our doctor's office or health clinic for a flu shot. But why every year? It's simple. Officials at the Flathead County Health Department said it's because the flu virus is constantly mutating, or changing, and scientists are trying to keep up with each new strain.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website outlines a yearly ritual. In February, the World Health Organization studies data collected from centers across the globe over the last year. Experts then guess which strains will be the worst and easiest to spread.
"So we never know until flu season if there's a match," explained Community Health Services Director Jody White.
This year, vaccines are similar to what's been offered int he past. At the Flathead clinic, White said anyone 6 months or older can receive a standard trivalent shot. Trivalent protects against three strains of influenza - two A and one B. Seniors aged 65 and older can get an extra boost with a high dose version.
"As we get older our immune systems might not process the vaccine as effectively. That vaccine was developed for better coverage for people over the age of 65," White said.
New for 2014 is a quadrivalent vaccine, protecting patients from four strains of influenza. The Flathead clinic isn't offering the quadrivalent vaccine, but our research shows the CDC doesn't think the quad is better than the trivalent.
"The CDC is not recommending any of the vaccines, one over the other," White explained. "They're saying the most important thing is to get vaccinated."
White reminded folks that it's a little prick of a needle to protect against a big virus that could keep you in bed and out of work for a few days.
"[It's] not only to protect yourself but protect those around you who might be at increased risk for complications from influenza," said White.