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Given the huge number of cold viruses out there, preparing an effective vaccine is virtually impossible. But because flu has only three main strains—types A, B and C—it makes an easier target.
The principle behind a vaccine is simple. When you take a serum that contains inactivated viruses, your immune system is stimulated to make antibodies to kill that same type of virus in the future—without making you sick in the process. Studies have shown that an annual flu shot will prevent about 70 percent of flu cases.
Doctors typically recommend flu shots for people over age 65 or those with long-term, serious conditions, like asthma or diabetes. But even young people who are high risk, such as smokers or those who work in high-exposure areas like schools or hospitals, should consider getting vaccinated, says Dr. Debin.
After you get the shot, it will take your immune system about two weeks to marshal its defenses. So don’t wait until the flu’s already swept through the office before seeing your doctor. It’s best, experts say, to get vaccinated between October 15 and November 15—before the flu season peaks.

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