By Marshall Dawer M.D. M.S. F.A.C.P. ABEM
Market Medical Director, UnitedHealthcare of North Texas
With the flu season lasting until May each year, it is not too late to get a flu shot. Flu cases have been rampant this flu season – in fact the Centers for Disease Control declared it an epidemic.
Influenza – or the flu, as it is commonly known – is a serious disease that afflicts between five and 20 percent of the population each year, according to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and can lead to hospitalization and even death. It also costs our nation more than $87 billion and 17 million lost workdays each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Unfortunately, the flu is not just a cause of missed work and school. Every year, thousands of people die from Influenza and its complications. More than 100 of the victims this past year were children.
The best way to protect yourself and reduce your chances of getting the flu is to get a flu vaccine. According to the CDC, everyone who is at least 6 months of age should get a flu vaccine. Getting vaccinated is especially important for people who have certain medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or chronic lung disease, as well as for pregnant women, young children and people 65 or older.
Despite the evidence and recommendations, many people won’t get vaccinated this year – which makes it more likely they will get and transmit the flu and put themselves and those around them at risk.
Consider the following:
The flu shot is not expensive.
In most cases, the cost of a flu shot is covered by your health plan, whether you buy health insurance on your own or are covered through your employer, Medicare or Medicaid. Many employers offer free onsite flu shot clinics at the office, given that the financial, personal and professional costs of the flu far exceed the cost of the vaccination.
Young, healthy people get the flu, too.
Influenza does not discriminate by age or health habits. Just because you’re young or don’t typically get sick doesn’t mean you can’t catch the flu. Keep in mind you can catch the flu from someone who has yet to exhibit any symptoms.
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 Flu.gov and enter your zip code.
Take Preventive Measures
In addition to getting vaccinated, please remember to take preventive measures like washing your hands regularly to help reduce the spread of germs. And if you are sick with the flu, stay home to prevent spreading flu to others.
Flu season runs from October through May. So if you haven’t gotten a flu shot, now is the time to make your family’s health a priority.