Flu Doesn’t Discriminate So Be Sure To Vaccinate
Each year statistics remind us that anyone can suffer, die or be hospitalized as a result of the flu. That is why influenza vaccine is recommended each and every year for everyone six months of age and older, with rare exceptions.
Sure, some people will think this recommendation doesn’t apply to them. Maybe they consider themselves healthy and not at risk for flu. Maybe they’ve been lucky enough never to have suffered with the flu, and just don’t realize how bad it can be.
But our luck can change at any moment.
We can’t predict if, or when, we may be exposed to flu. We can’t predetermine how long it may be before we recover, or if we will suffer complications. And we certainly can’t explain why an otherwise healthy individual could end up hospitalized or dead from flu. But we can share stories of those who’ve been afflicted by flu, and reinforce the messages delivered by the CDC and the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) at a special press conference last week:
Getting vaccinated is the best way to prevent the flu.
By getting your flu shot you can protect yourself, while also helping prevent influenza from spreading in your community. Such a simple gesture can actually save the lives of infants who are too young to be vaccinated, cancer patients who have a compromised immune system, or those who struggle with asthma, diabetes, or heart disease. A recent study even provided evidence that adult flu vaccination helped reduce the amount of flu among the elderly.
So this flu season, consider how dangerous influenza can be for people of all ages, and get vaccinated to protect yourself, as well as your friends, family, co-workers and neighbors.
What last year’s statistics tell us.
Not only is the flu very unpredictable, but the circulating strains can vary, and the populations that seem to suffer the most can also fluctuate from year to year.
Last year’s statistics tell us that the 2014–15 influenza season was moderately severe, but it was especially severe in adults over the age of 65. We’ve also learned that the majority of influenza A (H3N2) viruses that were circulating last season had drifted from the virus component contained in the vaccine. This impaired the efficacy of the vaccine, and may have resulted in the public questioning the value of the vaccine. However, as Dr. Frieden explained at last week’ press event,
“Overall, the flu vaccine is usually 50-60% effective.” He went on to say that, “It doesn’t matter which flu vaccine you get, just get one.”
Flu is a threat to everyone, regardless of age.
Flu in Infants:
Severe complications from flu are most common in children under the age of two.
Unfortunately, infants who are under six months of age are not able to be vaccinated for flu. That is why the best way to protect babies of this age is to ensure that everyone around them stays healthy and flu-free! That includes mom and dad, brothers and sisters, grandparents, caregivers and even daycare and healthcare providers.
Flu in Pregnant Women:
The best way a mother can protect her infant child is to get vaccinated herself during her pregnancy. Infants born to mothers who received the influenza vaccine during pregnancy have a lower risk of contracting flu or being hospitalized due to flu. That’s because the mother’s immunity transfers to the baby through the placenta to help protect her baby before the baby is old enough to be vaccinated.
Pregnant women also experience changes in their immune system, heart, and lungs during pregnancy that make them more prone to severe illness from flu. By getting vaccinated, an expectant woman can reduce her risk of hospitalization as well as premature labor and delivery. [Read the story of Leslie Creekmore to understand the risk of flu in pregnancy.]
Last flu season, 32% of women who were hospitalized with flu between the ages of 15-44 years of age were pregnant. You can help reduce this statistic by encouraging flu vaccination among the pregnant women you know.
Flu in Young Children:
Flu isn’t just a nuisance, it’s a dangerous illness that can come on suddenly. While most children will recover within a week or so, others will experience complications and serious infection that may result in hospitalization or even death.
Last flu season 145 children died of influenza and the majority of these children were unvaccinated. If you feel your child is healthy and doesn’t need a vaccine, consider the fact that as many as 43% of children hospitalized with flu last season had no underlying health problems. [Read Joe Lastinger’s emotional account of how he lost his daughter Emily to flu.]
It’s important to note that if your child is between 6 months and 8 years of age and is getting a flu vaccine for the first time in their lives, they may need two doses of vaccine, separated by at least 28 days, to ensure they receive optimal immunity.
The CDC has not expressed a preference for which flu vaccine a child should have (with the exception of those who should refrain from the nasal flu mist due to specific health conditions). However, it’s important to keep in mind that children who suffer with asthma or other respiratory problems should get vaccinated as soon as they can, since they are more prone to suffering with serious complications. It typically takes two weeks to build immunity as a result of the vaccine and flu vaccine has already begun distribution and is already available in some clinics, doctor’s offices and pharmacies.
Flu in Teens/Young Adults:
While parents do their best to encourage their kids to eat a healthy diet, get adequate sleep and engage in plenty of exercise, being an active teen also means there may be times when kids immune systems can’t fight off infection. All it takes is a bit of stress, one late night studying for that big exam, a tough football practice, a skipped a meal or a night indulging in junk food while hanging out with friends. After all, teens are inclined to think they’re invincible. But the flu has a way of reminding them that they’re not.
Consider Luke’s story as one example. He was a healthy 15-year-old athlete who spent a month hospitalized as a result of the flu. Even if teens don’t end up hospitalized like Luke, they still can’t afford to miss a week of class. Flu vaccine can give them the protection they need to fight off the flu.
Flu in Adults:
Even adults are vulnerable to flu. [Read Tammy’s story to hear how flu was a triple threat to her family.]As we age, we are sometimes diagnosed with other chronic medical conditions that can mean we’re at an even greater risk of complications from the flu.
- People with asthma – even if it’s mild and well-controlled – are at risk because flu can increase inflammation in the lungs and airways. Not only can flu provoke an asthma attack and worsen asthma symptoms, but people with asthma are more likely to develop pneumonia or suffer with other acute respiratory diseases.
- People with diabetes are at increased risk of severe complications since diabetes can interfere with the body’s ability to fight influenza and the virus can interfere with management of blood sugar levels.
- According to the American Heart Association, influenza also puts more stress on the heart, making it work harder to pump blood through the lungs, which can in turn trigger heart attack and stroke, which is an added risk to anyone with heart disease.
- People with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or more are at increased risk for developing flu-related complications and are hospitalized at a higher rate than those with a BMI less than 40.
- Immunocompromised individuals such as cancer patients, former cancer patients, and people living with HIV/AIDS, are among those who are at a greater risk of developing serious flu-related complications, including hospitalization and death.
Flu season is here, so be sure you’re covered.
While we encourage good health habits like washing your hands, eating a balanced diet, getting adequate sleep, and exercising regularly, we should also consider the flu vaccine as one more important line of defense.