Flu Shot: What You Need to Know Now
BY KITT WALSH
The weather is doing that annual whacky thing where the morning is a chilly 60 degrees and the afternoon a steamy 85 degrees. But the tip off is that Halloween decorations are popping up everywhere and that means it has truly happened; Autumn is upon us and with it the dreaded Flu season. It really is time to get your flu shot.
If you are a numbskull like me, you may put yours off until suddenly it is the holiday travel season, folks flying in from all over the country in those airborne Petrie dishes called airplanes, sneezing up a storm in the canned air and bringing it on home to you via restaurants, elevators or by visiting your house for dinner.
Next thing you know, wham! You are down with the virus and, since we are no longer spring chickens, that can too easily turn into pneumonia, as it did in my case last year.
You won’t catch me like that again. I’ve already gotten my flu shot and no, it is not too early to do so. Flu shots actually take a couple of weeks to be effective so if you get it now you may actually be resistant when Aunt Mabel turns up from Peoria. (By the way, if you have grandkids under the age of 8 and want to butt in, remind their parents they may need two doses spaced four weeks apart to be fully effective, so hop to it.)
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention director, Dr. Tom Frieden puts it even more clearly, “If we could increase vaccination coverage in this country by just five percent more, that would prevent about 800,000 illnesses and nearly 10,000 hospitalizations,” he said. “Flu vaccine is one of the best buys in public health.”
It is a “best buy” in more ways than one as it is highly likely yours is free, covered by insurance. It is even convenient, as you are able to walk in to many supermarkets and drug stores, fill out a form and roll up a sleeve. Five minutes and you are done.
But, this year you must actually roll up a sleeve. If you were one of those people counting on avoiding the needle stick (which really doesn’t hurt) and getting the nasal spray instead, think again. The 2016-17 vaccine isn’t available that way. The CDC says only the injection will be used as last year there was some concern that nasal spray wasn’t as effective and, out of the 144 million Americans who got vaccinated last year, the 20 million who opted for the nasal spray might not have been covered after all.
“Covered” is, of course, a relative term. There are two basic types of flu vaccines—one protects against three strains and one protects against four. The only difference between them is that the quadrivalent vaccine also guards against a second Type B strain than the first, which also offers protection against the strains seen early in the season–H3N3, the aforementioned Type B and H1N1 (Swine Flu). Get whichever one you can get and get it now, so you don’t forget or the vaccine becomes unavailable.
Even though last year’s flu season was less awful than the preceding three years, that matters little if you get the virus. (My doctor knew to swab me for the flu the minute I reported I felt as though I had been “hit by a truck”).
The flu season kicks into gear usually around the holidays and continues to grow through early March and isn’t winter enough to take without feeling like death warmed over on top of it? To be safe, get your flu shot by the end of October.
Not to be bleak, but not only will you have muscle aches, fever, congestion, chills and headache, remember the flu can give you diarrhea, seizures, morph into pneumonia (as it did me), cause heart attack and stroke and even kill you. The CDC guesstimates that between 3,000 and 49,000 people die from it every year. Remember it is a virus and no magic antibiotics can kill it. The best offense is a strong defense.
Now that we are over 50, we have even joined the list of what the CDC terms “special populations”—those who should be among the first in line to get the vaccine in case there is ever a shortage, joining the very young, immunosuppressed people, nursing home residents, pregnant women, the extremely obese and those with chronic conditions like diabetes and asthma—meaning we should take the risk very seriously. (If you have a severe allergy to the vaccine or if you’ve ever had Guillain-Barre syndrome, you cannot get the vaccine, so be aware.)
The good news is that, even if you do get the flu after you get the vaccine, you are likely to get a milder case and recover much sooner and that, in itself, is worth remembering to go get that shot today.
Here’s wishing you (and me) an uneventful flu season.