The influenza vaccination can decrease the risk of contracting the flu, even when the vaccine is received late in the flu season.

Old Man Winter brings snow, colder weather – and flu. The fever, aches, sore throat and cough can dampen any enthusiasm for colder weather, but the flu vaccine can help prevent this cold-weather menace.

The vaccine has been shown to be effective in preventing flu, according to the CDC. Typically, the vaccine is given in October or November, but vaccinations can be given even after December. The flu season can begin in October and go as late as May.

“Vaccination is recommended for anyone who wants to decrease their risk of getting the flu,” said Dr. Jeanne Santoli, deputy director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Immunization Division. “And while anyone can get sick with influenza, the flu is especially serious for certain groups of people who are at high risk of complications from influenza, including infants and young children, pregnant women, children and adults with chronic medical conditions like asthma, heart disease and diabetes, and adults age 50 and older.”

Influenza, commonly called flu, is a virus spread by droplet – that is, contact with drops of an infected person’s cough or sneeze, including touching something contaminated with drops. Flu is a serious illness and can result in hospitalization or even death. Each year, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized with flu, and about 36,000 people die each year from it, according to the CDC.

“Most deaths and hospitalizations are a consequence of complicating respiratory disorders, especially pneumonia,” said Dr. W. Paul McKinney in an interview with Medscape Today. McKinney is a professor of internal medicine and associate dean at the School of Public Health and Information Sciences at the University of Louisville in Louisville, Ky.

The vaccine can help prevent the illness, however. There are two types of vaccine – the shot and the nasal spray, according to the CDC. Both help prevent flu, but the nasal spray is approved only for healthy people age 2 to 49. Others, including pregnant women and infants age six months and older, should get the shot. Infants under six months old cannot receive the vaccine; Santoli recommended that their caregivers receive it to protect them.

The vaccines cause the body to develop antibodies to the flu virus. Usually, the antibodies are developed about two weeks after vaccination, according to the CDC. Then, if a person is exposed to flu, the antibodies can fight off the disease.