Flu season is off to a fast start in North Texas. This unpopular annual epidemic hit Americans hard last year, with a majority of states reporting high rates of influenza-like illness. Fortunately, there is something you can do to help prevent it.
Influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. The illness causes missed work and school days. In 2010, Americans missed 100 million work days due to flu-related illness, resulting in more than $10 billion in costs to companiesí bottom lines.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), everyone who is at least 6 months of age should get a flu vaccine. It is increasingly important to get vaccinated for people who have certain medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or chronic lung disease, pregnant women, young children under 5 and people 65 and older.
The good news is the flu vaccine is plentiful right now, and health officials say it is the best way to protect yourself and reduce your chances of getting the flu.
The bad news?
Despite the evidence and recommendations, hundreds of thousands of North Texans wonít get vaccinated this year. Not only does that put their personal health and well-being at risk, but it increases the chances of family, friends, co-workers and neighbors getting sick too.
Consider the following:
Getting the shot will not give you the flu.
According to the CDC, the flu shot vaccine is made with either inactivated flu viruses (and therefore not infectious) or with no flu vaccine viruses at all. Many people report experiencing flu-like symptoms after getting the vaccine, such as muscle pain or weakness, but these symptoms go away after a day or two, and are much less severe than the actual flu.
Young, healthy people get the flu, too.
Influenza does not discriminate against age or healthy habits. Just because youíre young or donít typically get sick doesnít mean you canít catch the flu. According to the CDC, people who have the flu can spread it to others from as far as six feet away. You can also catch the flu from someone who has yet to exhibit any signs or symptoms of being sick.
The flu shot is not expensive.
In most cases, the cost of a flu shot is covered by your health insurance plan, whether you buy health insurance on your own or are covered through your employer, through Medicare or Medicaid. More employers are now offering free onsite flu shot clinics at the office. If you get the flu, the cost of treating it and the potential for missed days of work or school far exceed the cost of the vaccination.
Getting the flu shot vaccine is fast, easy and convenient.
Getting a flu shot takes about five minutes. Most neighborhood pharmacies even offer walk-in options, so you donít need to make an appointment. If you are unemployed or your employer doesnít offer flu shots, you can go to your primary care doctor or nearby wellness clinic, most retail pharmacies or contracted flu shot providers. To find a list of flu shot providers near you, visit www.texasflu.org.
Make you and your familyís health a priority this year by getting a flu shot. That way, you can stay healthy and enjoy the cooler weather that has finally returned to North Texas.
Marshall Dawer, MD, serves as Medical Director for UnitedHealthcare of North Texas.