The 2012-13 flu season is one for the record books: 47 states report more than the usual number of cases; Boston and New York state have declared influenza emergencies, and that's caused shortages of vaccines and antivirals in some areas.
If you didn't heed our advice last fall to get an early-bird vaccine because you were busy, you didn't think you needed one, or you fell for one of the flu "fictions" circulating faster than the H3N2 virus in a crowded subway car, now's the time to step up and get that shot! It's about 62 percent effective at preventing the flu, and if you do get the virus, symptoms are a lot milder. (Tip: Exercise your arm immediately after you get the shot. It increases the likelihood that the shot will be effective.)
Still need convincing? Here are six flu falsehoods and the real scoop.
» Flu fiction No. 1: It's too late.
Truth: A late flu vaccine's better than none at all. Yes, it takes about two weeks to develop antibodies, but since flu season can drag into late May, it still can come in handy.
» Flu fiction No. 2: The most common flu strains this year aren't in the vaccine.
Truth: This year's vaccine contains the three strains responsible for 90 percent of flu this season. They are: A/California/7/2009 (H1N1)-like virus; A/Victoria/361/2011 (H3N2)-like virus; and B/Wisconsin/1/2010-like virus. If you get the flu after you have your inoculation, it's probably because you caught the bug before the vaccine kicked in or you've come down with a type that isn't in the vaccine.
» Flu fiction No. 3: The vaccine is too risky for kids and pregnant women.
Truth: Kids (including teens and college students) and pregnant women need it -- but aren't getting it. Every year, up to 40 percent of kids catch the flu -- and 20,000 kids under the age of 5 wind up in the hospital as a result. Yet only about half of little kids, teens and pregnant women (and just one in five college students) get the vaccine. If you're pregnant, a vaccine protects you and your fetus -- and it keeps protecting your baby after birth (the child gets your antibodies while in the womb). True, kids with severe egg allergies or anyone who's had a severe allergic reaction to the vaccine should not get the shot. But a just-approved vaccine called Flublock, for those 18-49, is OK for adults with an egg allergy. It's in limited supply this year, but it should be all over the place next year.
» Flu fiction No. 4: I'm healthy, so a bout of the flu's no big deal.
Truth: Flu sets you up for bacterial infections and life-threatening health problems.
The flu vaccine can cut your risk for a heart attack or stroke by a whopping 50 percent -- most likely because plaque in your arteries isn't subjected to the revved-up inflammation that happens when your immune system is battling the flu. (Inflammation can make the plaque rupture, causing a heart attack or stroke.) Could this benefit cut your risk for diabetes and cancer? Maybe. There's also news that flu increases risk for pneumonia super-infections. That's dangerous if you have asthma or other breathing problems, are age 65 or older or already have a weakened immune system.
» Flu fiction No. 5: I'll just keep my hands clean.
Truth: The flu virus is mostly airborne. Tiny flu-virus particles float in the air for hours after a cough or sneeze. Wearing a face mask in crowded places could cut your risk for flu by about 50 percent, but we think it's easier just to get the vaccine! Regular soap-and-water scrubbings or rubbing on alcohol-based hand sanitizer can prevent the spread of cold viruses and bacteria that can easily infect folks with the flu.
» Flu fiction No. 6: The vaccine is sold out.
Truth: You can find it. If you're among the 64 percent of people who haven't gotten their flu protection yet, track down this life-saving vaccine near you with one click: flu.gov in the U.S. or fightflu.ca in Canada.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, visit sharecare.com.