For many of us, Fall means flu season. Having the flu not only cramps our style, it can lead to severe, life-threatening complications. With the stresses of the holiday season, cruising through crowded malls, and weather changes, many of us find ourselves getting sick sometime during the season.
To protect us, each year private manufacturers produce more than 150 million doses of injectable flu vaccine. Unfortunately, those flu shots and vaccines, in general, seem to be suffering from some bad press and even worse reporting. Still, nearly 60 percent of children and 43 percent of adults were vaccinated during the 2016-2017 flu season.
“Those statistics matter,” says Dr. Robert Schwartz, who specializes in family medicine at the University of Miami Health System. “As the number of vaccinated individuals in a population increases, so does the population’s resilience to influenza outbreaks. In older people, children, or those with weaker immune systems, flu viruses can be even more dangerous,” he adds.
Studies suggest getting an annual flu vaccine can decrease your chances of getting one of the more common flu viruses, and even save your life.
One of the best ways to avoid the negative outcomes of the flu? Avoid getting it.
According to the CDC, there are many everyday practices that will lessen the spread of germs, and decrease your chances of getting the flu. Whether you’re around sick people or not, it is good practice to:
- Wash your hands with soap and water often (or use an alcohol-based hand rub on the go).
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when sneezing.
- Throw used tissues away. (This is no time to be thrifty.)
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with your hands.
- Clean surfaces where germs collect (sinks, countertops, and keyboards).
- Stay home if you have a fever, and for 24 hours after the fever.
- Make sure to get plenty of sleep during the holidays.
- Pay attention to your diet, including good nutrition and drinking plenty of water.
Who needs a flu shot?
The CDC recommends everyone older than 6 months get a flu shot every year. Annual flu vaccines offer defense against the most common viruses that will be active during a given season.
“Check with your local pharmacist as many provide no- and low-cost flu vaccines,” offers Schwartz. “Your workplace may also have specified times for flu shots, so check with your human resources office. Be aware, getting any vaccination can lead to side effects. Some of the most common include soreness and redness near the site of the shot, headaches, nausea, fever and muscle ache.”
Beware of myths
A common misconception is that the flu shot can give you the flu. Most vaccinations do not use a live virus. Those that do will use a weaker version of the virus to keep you from getting the flu. If your brother-in-law says he got the flu from the flu shot, he’s probably mistaken, or just suffering from bad timing. Is a flu shot a “silver bullet” against the flu? No. But it is the best sound defense currently available.
For more information about how to get your flu shot, visit uhealthclinics.com.
John Senall is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News. He is a former hospital and comprehensive cancer center communications director.
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