Flu season is fast approaching. Are you ready?
Between 5 and 20 percent of Americans will get the flu each year, and more than 200,000 of them are hospitalized from flu-related complications.
"The best way to protect against the flu is by getting a flu shot every year," says Dr. Candice L. Robinson, a medical officer at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The good news is the influenza shot is considered a preventive health service, and most health plans will cover it. Each year, the vaccine is redesigned to protect against the most common flu viruses. Learn more about the virus and how to protect yourself this year.
What is the flu?
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by various viruses. These viruses can affect your lungs, throat and nose and can even lead to death. Most deaths from the flu occur in people over the age of 65.
General symptoms of the flu include fever, coughing, headache, chills, sore throat, muscle aches and runny nose. Strains of the virus can vary each season due to genetic changes, or mutations. To compensate for the ongoing changes with the flu viruses, scientists monitor the trends in flu virus variation and update the flu vaccine each year as needed.
The flu vaccine can be delivered in two ways: injection into muscle tissue (for example, the arm) or via a nasal spray. You should discuss which option is best for you with your health care provider. The type of vaccine your health care provider has in stock may depend on which manufacturer supplies him or her with the vaccine. Both methods are effective.
Some people think they will get the flu after receiving the vaccine; this is a myth. It's impossible to "catch" the flu from the vaccine because it does not contain the live virus.
Flu vaccine effectiveness rates vary greatly by age, type of flu vaccine, and the person's health status. In general, the rate that the shot can effectively keep someone from getting the flu has ranged from 50 to 90 percent depending on the person.
Who should get the flu vaccine?
The CDC and other health organizations recommend anyone 6 months and older getting an annual flu vaccine. People who fit the following descriptions are at a higher risk for developing flu-related complications, so the flu vaccine is especially recommended for them.
- Adults 65 and older.
- Children younger than 5.
- Pregnant women.
- People living in long-term care facilities and nursing homes.
When should I get the flu vaccine?
Flu season generally lasts October through May. There isn't a set date for when the 2015 seasonal flu vaccine will be available, but people can typically get the flu vaccine in September or October, notes Robinson. Check with your health care provider to see if they have the flu vaccine in stock or when they anticipate receiving it.
According to the CDC, flu activity is highest between December and February, so experts recommend getting vaccinated as soon as the shot is ready.
Where can I get the flu vaccine?
The following facilities often offer the vaccine:
- Primary care clinics.
- City, county or state public health departments.
All health insurance plans purchased in the marketplace under the Affordable Care Act cover the costs of the flu vaccine. Medicaid, Medicare and most private insurance plans also cover the vaccine.
There are other options for those who don't have health insurance. The Vaccines for Children Program helps provide up to 16 vaccines to children and teens who couldn't otherwise afford them. Adults without insurance coverage can contact their state or local public health department for assistance with getting the vaccine.
Getting the flu can make you sick, tired and miserable. Follow these tips for avoiding the flu and staying healthy
- Consider getting the flu vaccine. While it's still possible to get the flu after you've been vaccinated, your symptoms will generally be milder than if you hadn't been vaccinated.
- Wash your hands. If you're not able to use soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer instead.
- Cover your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze, and then wash your hands.
- Clean and disinfect common surfaces that are easily contaminated such as toys, phones, desks, countertops, door knobs, computer keyboards and faucet handles.
- Avoid being around sick people.
- Stay home if you're sick.
For more information about the flu vaccine or the upcoming flu season, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at CDC.gov.
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