The flu can kill.
More people die of flu complications than any other vaccine-preventable disease in this country, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Between 70 million and 76 million people in the United States are at a high risk for complications from flu infections, including hospitalization or death, and about 20,000 of them die each year. An estimated 114,000 are hospitalized. Most flu-related deaths are among people 65 and older. But many small children and the elderly have to go to the hospital because of the illness.
The 2003 to 2004 flu season has had an early start with cases seen as early as October. Although the circulating flu strain is not perfectly matched to the vaccine, you still have some protection.
Among those that CDC says should be vaccinated are:
- Children 6 to 23 months old, along with their caretakers
- People who are 50 and older
- People with chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease, asthma and diabetes
- Those who have immune system problems
- Residents of chronic care facilities
- Health care providers
Even if you aren’t among the at-risk groups, the flu can knock you down for at least a week, costing you time at work and making you feel awful. So don’t blow off your flu shot.
There’s no mistaking a cold for the flu. You know it when you get it: aches, high fever, headache, extreme exhaustion, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat and cough. Be sure to take care of yourself even if you are a healthy adult; the flu is a disease of the lungs and can lead to pneumonia.
Avoiding the flu
Typically, flu vaccine is usually available by September or October, and the best time for vaccination is October through November. You can get the vaccine through grocery stores, local health departments, doctors’ offices and employers.
A new vaccine called FluMist®, which is taken by inhaling through the nose, is only approved for healthy people ages 5 to 50. Unlike the flu shot, people with weakened or compromised immune systems should not get FluMist. Also, people who have health problems associated with heart disease, kidney disease, lung disease or metabolic diseases such as diabetes, anemia and other blood disorders should not get this type of vaccine.
You won’t get the flu from FluMist or the flu shot because they contain weakened viruses. These weakened strains usually do not cause illness because they have lost their disease-causing properties and are made from killed influenza viruses.
Just in case you’re a little late getting around to your flu shot this season, you might be thinking about how you can defend yourself. Health officials say the best defense is an offense and offer these tips for avoiding colds and the flu:
- Exercise regularly, eat nutritious foods, and get plenty of rest.
- Wash your hands often. You can pick up a virus from even a handshake.
- Avoid touching the moist areas of your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Avoid sharing cups, glasses, or utensils among family members or friends, especially during peak cold and flu seasons.