The Flu and its Impact on the Family
I’m honored to be kicking off the CDC’s National Influenza Vaccination Week (NIVW) “Focus on the Family” blog relay. Each day, one of CDC’s Digital Ambassadors will leverage the holiday season to encourage their readers to focus on protecting the family from influenza. You are invited to follow the blog relay, which will extend throughout the week, and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #NIVW2015.
This may sound harsh, but one of the biggest dangers facing families in the fight against the flu is ignorance. It’s not that people are purposely acting out of ignorance, it’s simply an issue of people being unfamiliar with the dangers of flu and being largely misinformed about flu vaccine recommendations.
In 2010 a new universal vaccine recommendation from the CDC meant that the flu vaccine is now recommended for everyone six months of age and older. What we’ve learned is that this universal recommendation can help reduce flu illnesses and spare thousands of people from flu-related hospitalization.
The best way to protect our families from flu is with flu education and vaccination.
Make sure people know how dangerous the flu can be.
We’ve all heard people refer to stomach bugs and bad colds as a bout of flu. However, these seemingly innocent misrepresentations of influenza only help perpetuate people’s perception that the flu is a short-lived illness or just a minor inconvenience.
Studies show that people are more motivated to protect themselves from a vaccine preventable disease when they have a clear understanding of the risks of that disease. This is why our Vaccinate Your Family website focuses on educating people about the dangers of the flu at every stage of life.
It is estimated that flu-associated deaths range from about 3,000 to 49,000 people each year. But flu prevention is not just about deaths. Each year there are millions of cases of influenza that result in countless doctors visits, millions of days of missed work and school, and thousands of flu-related hospitalizations.
As an adult, I have plenty of reasons for not wanting to get the flu.
First off, the flu is absolutely miserable. Anyone who claims that the flu is no big deal certainly doesn’t appreciate the length and severity of the illness. I’ll take a vaccine any day over being bedridden with flu.
Who has time to be sick? Being sick is disruptive to the family. Have you ever heard the saying “If mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy?” Well, if Mom (or Dad) is down with the flu there won’t be much time spent working, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, playing chauffeur or doing laundry. That’s right kiddos. You’ll have to fend for yourselves for a week or more.
If one family member gets the flu, chances are someone else in the family will suffer too. In fact, most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. That’s a pretty big window of transmission.
If we can just help people acknowledge the inconvenience, as well as the dangers of flu, then perhaps more people will take the steps necessary to prevent infection.
Educate people about the benefits of flu vaccination.
Too often I hear people claim that they don’t need a flu vaccine. However, what can we say to make them want one? Well, we can start by explaining how effective flu vaccination is in protecting ourselves and reducing the disease burden in our communities.
- According to a study by the CDC, flu vaccination from 2005 to 2011 is estimated to have prevented 13.6 million flu cases, 5.8 million medical visits and nearly 113,000 flu-related hospitalizations in the United States alone.
- Additionally, a recently published study in the journal Vaccine estimated that over a span of nine years, flu vaccination has prevented more than 40,000 flu-associated deaths in the United States.
These statistics are pretty impressive, especially when you consider that only about 50% of the population is getting vaccinated in any given season. The statistics are even more compelling when we can relate them to specific members of our families:
- Severe complications from flu are most common in children under the age of two.
- Infants under six months of age are not able to be vaccinated for flu which is why everyone including parents, siblings, grandparents, caregivers and even daycare and healthcare providers should get vaccinated to help prevent transmission to the baby.
- 32% of women (age 15-44) who were hospitalized with flu last season were pregnant.
- Pregnant women experience changes in their immune system, heart, and lungs during pregnancy that make them more prone to severe illness from flu, but they can reduce their risk of hospitalization,
premature labor and delivery by getting a flu vaccine during pregnancy.
- One study showed that giving flu vaccine to pregnant women was 92% effective in preventing hospitalization of infants for flu since pregnant women transfer immunity to their babies through the placenta.
- 43% of children hospitalized with flu last season had no underlying health problems.
- Of the 147 children who died of influenza we know the vaccination status of 123 of them – 14 were ineligible for vaccination due to age, 15 were vaccinated, and 94 were unvaccinated.
- A recent study showed that flu vaccine reduced children’s risk of PICU admission by 74%.
- Children who suffer with asthma or other respiratory problems are more prone to suffering with serious complications from flu.
Adults and Older Family Members:
- As we get older we’re more likely to be diagnosed with chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, heart disease, diabetes and obesity, that can put us at greater risk of complications from the flu. The good news is flu vaccination is associated with reduced hospitalizations among people with diabetes (79%) and chronic lung disease (52%).
- Our immune systems weaken as we get older which is why there is greater risk of serious complications from flu among older individuals.
- One study showed that flu vaccination was associated with a 71% reduction in flu-related hospitalizations among adults of all ages and a 77% reduction among adults 50 years of age and older during the 2011-2012 flu season.
- A study that looked at flu vaccine effectiveness over the course of three flu seasons estimated that flu vaccination lowered the risk of hospitalizations by 61% in people 50 years of age and older.
- It is estimate that between 80-90% of seasonal flu-related deaths occurred in people 65 years and older and between 50-70% of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations have occurred among people in this age group.
While we won’t be able to convince people to vaccinate based solely on statistics, the numbers do reveal that (1) the flu is dangerous, and (2) vaccination is beneficial.
When it comes to taking our chances and playing the odds, getting vaccinated improves our likelihood of avoiding the flu. By improving flu vaccination rates among families, we can effectively reduce transmission of the flu and spare many families from needless suffering.
So during National Influenza Vaccination Week, take the time to get yourself and your family vaccinated for flu and suggest others do the same.