Flu Shots’ Benefits Outweigh Risks

The current focus on preventive medicine requires patients to accept some responsibility for their own health care. In partnership with your provider, you can make beneficial lifestyle changes in your diet, exercise, smoking status and medication adherence

Influenza can take a devastating toll on adults. Known as “the flu,” this contagious respiratory infection affects the nose, throat and even the lungs. With symptoms ranging from mild to severe, the flu can have a detrimental effect on the ability to perform routine activities, cause missed work time and, possibly, result in death. But influenza can be prevented. Taking proactive steps to head off the flu with a flu shot optimizes your chances of avoiding influenza during the upcoming months.

Although it’s possible to contract the flu anytime throughout the year, flu season typically extends from October through February. At particular risk of contracting influenza are adults over the age of 65, people with chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, and people with weakened immune systems. Henry Bernstein, DO, a member of the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and an ex-officio member of the AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases, says, “I can’t emphasize enough the importance of everyone receiving the flu vaccine each and every year because it remains the best available preventive measure to protect against influenza.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that during the 2016-2017 flu season in the United States, the influenza vaccine prevented 5.3 million cases of flu, and negated the need for approximately 2.6 million flu-related medical visits and 85,000 flu-related hospitalizations. The vaccine promotes the development of antibodies, creating a preventive effect against the influenza viruses expected to be most prevalent during the upcoming season. The efficacy of the vaccine can vary from year to year, and its protective effects depend on the age and health status of a person who is vaccinated. It’s important to get a flu shot each year, as flu strains and vaccines can differ from previous years.

The CDC describes the 2017-2018 flu season as one with high severity, creating increased levels of outpatient clinic and emergency department visits for flu-like symptoms, and resulting in heightened flu-related hospitalization rates. During the past flu season, the percentage of deaths attributed to pneumonia and influenza reached or surpassed the epidemic threshold for 16 consecutive weeks, according to the CDC.

The Influenza Hospitalization Surveillance Network reported 30,453 influenza-related hospitalizations in the United States from October 1, 2017 through April 28, 2018, with people aged 65 and older accounting for approximately 58% of those admissions. Overall hospitalization rates, comprising patients of all ages, reached the highest level ever recorded in this system. Those striking figures emphasize the need to protect yourself this year with a flu shot.

Recent CDC studies indicate that flu vaccination reduces the risk of influenza illness by between 40% and 60% in the overall population during seasons when circulating flu viruses are well matched to the flu vaccine. And getting vaccinated protects family members and people with whom you come into contact, which is important for people in close proximity to babies and young children, older people and people with health conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to illness.

Although side effects from the flu shot are likely to be mild, according to the CDC, people may experience soreness, redness or swelling at the injection site, low-grade fever and aches. Serious side effects rarely occur. They can include difficulty breathing, facial swelling, hives, rapid heartbeat, dizziness and high fever. Although the myth that flu vaccine can cause the flu has been dispelled, experts note that it takes about two weeks for people who have received the vaccine to build up immunity to the flu.

Contact your provider and schedule a flu shot to improve the chances of maintaining good health throughout the upcoming flu season.

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