By Roger Muller
The leaves are changing colors, store shelves are filling with Halloween decorations and evening temperatures are dipping into the 40s. Fall has arrived in Washington, and that means it’s also the beginning of flu season.
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 companies’ bottom lines.
The best way to protect yourself and reduce your chances of getting the flu this year is to get a flu vaccine. 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 years old and people 65 and older.
Despite the evidence and recommendations, hundreds of thousands of Washington residents won’t get vaccinated this year. Not only does that put your own personal health and well-being at risk, but it increases the chances of your 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 doesn’t discriminate against age or healthy habits. Just because you’re young or don’t typically get sick doesn’t mean you can’t 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 costs 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 no more than five minutes. Most neighborhood pharmacies even offer walk-in options, so you don’t need to make an appointment. If you are unemployed or your employer doesn’t 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 http://www.doh.wa.gov/YouandYourFamily/IllnessandDisease/Flu.aspx and enter your zip code.
Make your and your family’s health a priority this year by getting a flu shot. If you do, you’ll likely be able to enjoy fall activities and the upcoming holidays a little more.
By Dr. Roger Muller is chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare Pacific Northwest, a provider of health insurance plans.