Seems like it just ended, but influenza, or flu, season is upon us again. That means it’s the perfect time for the Center for Disease Control’s annual National Influenza Vaccination Week (NIVW), set for Dec. 1-7, 2019
NIVW is a good period to get the word out about how dangerous the flu is, and to dispel a lot of myths that pop up every year, like these below:
Some real facts? According to Harvard Medical School, 36,000 people die and more than 200,000 are hospitalized each year because of the flu. Meanwhile, flu vaccination (in the 2016-2017 season) prevented an estimated 5.3 million flu illnesses—about the population of the Atlanta metropolitan area; 2.6 million flu medical visits—more than the number of students in all K-12 schools in Florida; and 85,000 flu hospitalizations—more than the number of hospital beds in California and Oregon.
The 2018-2019 flu season was the longest in a decade, running 21 weeks. According to the CDC, two waves of flu: H1Ni, and then H3N2, crossed the United States from October 2018 through May 2019. Both are circulating again this year, the CDC says, and this year’s vaccine has been updated and is predicted to be a good match and protect well against them.
“The flu” covers many types of virus
When someone has the flu, they have one of three types of virus, all of which result in muscle aches, soreness, headache, and fever. There are three types of flu viruses: A, B, and C. Types A and B are responsible for the annual flu epidemics, while type C is usually less severe.
Type A is constantly mutating and is usually responsible for larger outbreak and epidemics. It is commonly hosted by wild birds, hence the phrase “avian flu.” It is most commonly spread by people who are infected, usually lingering on surfaces they have touched and areas where they have sneezed.
Type B is limited to human carriers, and usually does not cause pandemics. Type C is similar, and often is even milder. Still, both are contagious and can create health problems that can be avoided by receiving a flu vaccine.
The flu is not “just a bad cold”
The flu is bad enough on its own and can lead to even worse complications, such as pneumonia and bacterial infections. And it’s worth noting that anyone who gets the flu can pass it along to anyone else, including children and infants who are too young to get a flu vaccine.
Speaking of children, there are a few high-risk groups for whom getting a flu shot should be part of every year’s health checklist. Those include pregnant women, people with certain chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease or lung disease, and people 65 years and older. As always, any of these individuals should consult their medical professional if they have any questions, or if they think there might be other presenting medical issues that would be adversely affected by the flu vaccine.
Lead by example when it comes to prevention
Healthcare professionals should (and often are required to, or else they may not be allowed to interact with patients) be vaccinated every year. Last season, an estimated 81 percent overall heeded that advice, but a lower percentage of those who interacted with patients may have complied.
If you have questions or concerns about the vaccine, that’s OK. There is a wealth of information about the different types of vaccine that are created every year, and the strains they are meant to fight. Asking questions allows you to feel better about your decision, and that knowledge also can be passed along to patients, family and friends — it’s just as communicable as the flu, but in a good way!
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