You know the feeling – that tired, achy-all-over, miserable feeling that shows up just before you get sick. Is it the cold or flu? The common cold and influenza share similar features. Both can knock you off your feet, and both are easily spread to other people. But while a cold can linger for a few weeks, gradually getting better with rest and over-the-counter medicine, the flu isn’t so easily deterred.
Each year, about 5-20 percent of the population will come down with the flu. Estimates vary widely based on the severity of flu strain, which changes each season. Of those who get the flu, as few as 3,000 people and as many as 49,000 die from flu-associated complications every year. Around 200,000 Americans end up in the hospital from flu.
Vulnerable populations – like pregnant women, the elderly, people with disabilities or immune disorders, and children – are at higher risks of developing complications from flu. This year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is partnering with organizations across the country to #fightflu – and you can be a part of the movement by getting your seasonal flu shot.
Why should I get a flu shot?
Vaccines save lives. You might assume, like many people, that the flu shot isn’t as important as other immunizations, like a tetanus shot or whooping cough vaccine. The fact is that flu vaccines literally save lives. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), vaccinations are the most effective way to prevent the flu. Because the virus spreads easily, you can get the flu from just about anywhere. Between office parties, holiday get-togethers, school functions and more, fall and winter are prime times to spread the love – and the germs.
Not only can the flu cause serious illnesses and death, but it also impacts economic factors, like work and school productivity. Kids miss school, parents miss work, and the cycle continues until flu season ends. In the United States, the economic burden of the flu ranges from $13.9 thousand to $957.5 million depending on county. Recent estimates also conclude that the total short-term and long-term costs associated with the flu run from $26.8 billion to $87.1 billion each year in the U.S. There are good social, economic and health reasons to get your flu shot each season.
It’s December. Isn’t it too late to get the vaccine?
Flu season peaks from around November to March, but the season lasts from October to May. While it’s important to get immunized as soon as possible, vaccines are effective for reducing your risk at any point. The CDC offers a map that shows flu activity levels across the United States on a weekly basis. Flu affects communities in different ways. If you live in a more populated area, then you’re obviously more likely to get sick based on numbers alone. But all communities and age groups are at risk, so don’t take any chances by skipping the flu shot.
Are there any non-needle options for getting vaccinated?
Usually, there’s a mist option for adults who don’t want to get injected. This year, the CDC is recommending injection-only vaccines. The non-needle option just isn’t effective against flu strains for the 2016-2017 season. Getting a shot can be intimidating and uncomfortable, but it’s a small price to pay for protection. It’s no joke that the flu shot saves lives. From 2005 to 2014, flu vaccines prevented 40,000 flu-related deaths in the United States.
How can I help if I can’t get a vaccine?
Most healthy people can get a flu shot, but there may be reasons why you can’t. If you have an allergy to any of the ingredients in a flu vaccine, talk to your doctor about them. Even people with egg allergies have been cleared to get the flu shot this year, but there are special considerations you’ll need to take. If you can’t get the shot at all, then you can help fight the flu this year by staying proactive when it comes to personal hygiene:
- Wash your hands with warm, soapy water or use alcohol-based hand sanitizers to prevent the spread of germs.
- Avoid touching shared surfaces – like doorknobs, bathroom stalls and keyboards – with bare hands before wiping them down with a disinfectant.
- If you’re going to parties this holiday season, steer clear of shared food bowls, like nuts or chips, and don’t share drinks or food from the same container with other people.
Even with the best precautions, you might still get the flu. An influenza vaccine doesn’t guarantee immunity, but it does help you fight against the most common strains of the flu each season. Immunizations not only reduce the likelihood that you’ll get sick, but they also protect people who can’t get immunized due to medical reasons. The CDC recommends that everyone older than 6 months get the vaccine. Under the ACA, preventive immunizations are covered by your health insurance at no co-pay, which means it won’t cost you anything, so stop by a clinic or talk to your doctor today about getting your seasonal flu shot.