ST. PETERSBURG, FL — Fall is in the air and so starts the annual flu season. While flu – or influenza – is most serious for older Americans and people with certain chronic conditions, influenza can affect people of all ages and lead to hospitalizations, significant health complications and even death.
As many as 35 million flu cases are expected this year, starting in October and continuing into May, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While the peak months are typically December through February, the best time to prevent the onset of flu is before it begins.
Most people have likely had the flu at some point – with symptoms such as a constant cough, sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches and fatigue – yet many myths and misperceptions remain. To address common misperceptions and help clarify why getting a flu shot is important, Dr. Mayrene Hernandez, chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare Florida, shares six of the most common myths and facts:
Myth: Flu shots don’t really work.
Fact: The flu vaccine reduces the risk of contracting and spreading the disease by up to 60 percent, according to the CDC. The vaccine’s effectiveness depends on multiple factors – including the amount of time between vaccination and exposure to the disease, your age and health status – yet studies show that the flu vaccination does benefit overall public health, especially when the vaccine is well matched to that year’s circulating viruses.
Myth: I got vaccinated last year, so I should be good for this year, too.
Fact: The flu virus changes each year, so flu vaccines change to keep pace. Plus, the body’s immune response to a flu vaccine declines over time, which means a yearly vaccination is the best option.
Myth: I exercise and eat healthy, so I don’t need to get vaccinated.
Fact: It is true being healthy may help you recover from illness more quickly, but it won’t prevent you from getting or spreading the flu virus. Even healthy people can be infected and spread the flu virus without showing symptoms.
Myth: The flu vaccine is only necessary for the old and very young.
Fact: The CDC recommends flu shots for everyone six months and as early in the fall or early winter as possible. Getting vaccinated later in the flu season – through January or even after – can still be beneficial. It is important to start early in the season for children, as two doses of the vaccine may be necessary, with the shots given at least four weeks apart.
Myth: The flu vaccine causes strong side effects.
Fact: The flu vaccine does not cause harmful side effects. Some may experience mild side effects, such as soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given, a low-grade fever or minor aches, but these are typically short-lasting. You also don’t need to worry about changing your medication routine, because the vaccine doesn’t interact with other medications.
Myth: Getting the flu is not that serious.
Fact: The CDC reports that more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications each year, while 36,000 die from it. Reducing the risk of flu is especially important for people who have certain medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or chronic lung disease; and for pregnant women, young children and people 65 and older. Even for people without those complications, flu symptoms can disrupt work, school or social life for several weeks or more.
Now is the time to get a flu vaccine, which is considered preventive and in most cases is covered through employer-sponsored, individual and Medicare and Medicaid health plans. Vaccines are available through primary care physicians and convenience care clinics. Visit the CDC website at cdc.gov/flu to search for a nearby care provider based on your zip code.
Photo: The onset of fall also means the start of flu season. Getting a flu shot is important, and the earlier the better.
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