Plus, what to eat to support a healthy immune system as we inch closer to flu season.
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a man getting his shot
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Our immune systems have always been an important consideration—be it during cold and flu season, in relation to those who are immunocompromised or regarding our ability to bounce back from any infection any time of year.

But for the past two years, as we've been battling the COVID-19 pandemic, the concept of supporting our immune systems has never been more en vogue. As a reminder, as good as chicken soup is for the taste buds and the soul, there's nothing we can eat or drink to cure or prevent a viral or bacterial illness. Certain vitamins, minerals and overall dietary patterns can help reinforce our immune defenses to better fight off foreign invaders and allow us to bounce back faster (more on this shortly), but that's the best we can do with diet.

The best ways to minimize your own risk and the spread of illness in your community are to wash your hands frequently, stay home if you're sick (and keep your distance from those who might be ill), disinfect surfaces in your home and workspace, and get vaccinated.

Speaking of those vaccinations, after noticing an early surge in flu cases in Australia this year, health experts stateside are suggesting that to limit the impact of another potential round of a "twindemic," now's the time to start planning ahead by ensuring your COVID-19 vaccinations are up to date and that you make a plan to get a flu shot.

Since it's located in the Southern Hemisphere and essentially on a reverse weather pattern to the U.S. calendar, Australian influenza season is typically from May to September. This year, however, Australian doctors noticed a spike in mid-April that surpassed the five-year average. Babies and kids up to age 19 have experienced the highest rates of flu reported, according to the Australian Government's Department of Health and Aged Care. And some experts believe this could be predictive of a more active flu season in the Northern Hemisphere as well.

The American influenza season has been a bit out of whack since the coronavirus pandemic began. The 2020-2021 flu season saw historically low flu activity, due to social-distancing mandates and mask-wearing. Then in 2021-2022, the timeline was pushed back a bit and influenza cases lingered through May and June, which is later than usual. This year, as mask-wearing becomes slightly less common and more Americans are heading back to the office or school and possibly partaking in more social gatherings, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is starting now to remind Americans that every person over 6 months of age should be vaccinated against the flu. You have six different options for the flu vaccine, with availability varying based on location. These include the standard dose quadrivalent flu shot, an egg-free option, a nasal spray and a few high-potency styles that are particularly recommended for those age 65 and older. (ICYMI, here are 4 things all of us can do to make the flu shot more effective.)

The Best Time to Get a Flu Shot This Year

As far as timing goes, there's a sweet spot. Historically, it's been recommended to get the influenza vaccine as soon as it becomes available for the year, but data shows that protection lasts between four and six months. For this reason, some experts are recommending pushing back vaccination until late September or early October for the most protection during peak months of infection.

The CDC echoes that sentiment, noting that September and October are the best times to get vaccinated, because it's ideal to get the flu shot before influenza really begins circulating in the area. For some kids, who may require two doses, and for people in the third trimester of pregnancy, a doctor may advise an early shot time (like August). Preferably, the CDC says that everyone should have received their flu shot by October 31. It takes two weeks following vaccination for antibodies to develop, so that Halloween deadline means that we all would ideally be bolstered up before Thanksgiving.

Just as COVID-19 continues to evolve into new strains, influenza evolves frequently, too. Experts say relying on last year's vaccine is not a good idea, as protection from the vaccine decreases over time and the influenza virus changes every year, which is why an annual vaccine is necessary.

The Bottom Line

The best time to get the flu shot in 2022 is in September or October, ideally before October 31, the CDC says.

As you prepare for flu season—and continue to focus on protecting yourself from a severe case of COVID-19, there are certain foods and drinks that can help support your immune system. (These 8 immune-focused lifestyle habits certainly can't hurt either.) Get inspired by our healthy immunity meal plan, then fill your cart with these 5 best foods and nutrients to eat more of for a healthy immune system. And for bonus points, stock up on oranges: our pick for the #1 food for your immune system.