It's Not Too Late to Get Your Flu Shot
Did you get your flu shot yet?
Doctors recommend that almost everyone should get an annual flu shot, beginning around October. Of course, it's easy to procrastinate.
Never fear! If you haven't had the flu yet this year, count yourself lucky and go get your shot. December is the beginning of peak flu season, so getting vaccinated now still can spare you from a miserable week, and even life-threatening complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that each year, more than 200,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized due to flu complications, and thousands of deaths each year are flu-related. People with asthma, diabetes, heart disease and a number of other chronic health conditions are more vulnerable to complications. And people older than 65, even if they are healthy, are at higher risk.
It's not just for you.
If you're still tempted to skip your flu shot, remember that by lowering your own risk of the flu, you're lowering the risk for others. This includes babies who are too young to be vaccinated. And according to a study from the Infectious Diseases Society of America, the higher the overall vaccination rate of a community, the less likely seniors are to get the flu. Our immune systems weaken as we grow older, and the effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies from year to year, so a senior who is vaccinated might nonetheless come down with the flu if exposed to someone who has it. Said study author Glen B. Taksler, Ph.D., of the Cleveland Clinic, "Our findings suggest that flu vaccination should be encouraged among low-risk adults not just for their own benefit, but also for the benefit of higher risk adults in their community, such as the elderly."
The flu vaccine is available as a shot or as a nasal spray. The CDC does not recommend the nasal spray vaccine for people older than 49. Seniors also may receive a new higher-dose version of the flu shot, which has been found to be almost 25 percent more effective for older adults. The CDC cautions people of every age with chronic illnesses to consult with their healthcare provider about the form of the vaccine that is safest and most effective for their condition.
Getting a flu shot is simple, and these days it is almost painless. The flu shot is offered at doctor's offices, clinics, health departments, pharmacies and senior centers. Look for the sign that says "Get Your Flu Vaccine Here." Most health insurance plans, including Medicare, cover the cost of the flu shot; check with your health plan for details of coverage.
Do it every year.
Don't be tempted to skip your shot because you were vaccinated last year. Flu viruses are constantly changing, and so is the annual flu vaccine. One year's shot most likely won't protect you against the next year's strains. The vaccine for 2014-15 wasn't as effective as researchers hoped, but the CDC says this year's vaccine is looking to be a good match.
And here's another piece of good news: Infectious disease experts tell us that even if we are among the unlucky minority of patients who are immunized but come down with the flu anyway, we're likely to experience milder symptoms and fewer complications than if we didn't get the shot.
So take the time to get your flu shot, and help older loved ones be immunized as well. You can go together, or if your loved one uses home care services, the caregiver can transport your loved one to the doctor's office or pharmacy. Your loved one should talk to the doctor about the right flu vaccine for 2015-16.
Visit Flu.gov to learn more about this year's flu vaccine recommendations, how to avoid catching or spreading the flu, where to find a flu shot, and what you should do if you or an elderly loved one does catch the flu.
The information in this article is not intended to replace the advice of your healthcare provider. If you have questions about the flu, flu vaccine, or what to do if you get the flu, talk to your doctor.
Image: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)