Late fall and early winter bring the holidays and many other delights, and they also usher in a less welcome visitor: the flu. Taking precautions to avoid the flu, as well as staying on top of what strains are of most concern this year, is wise—and also fairly easy and not very time consuming.
Still, a lot of people wave off flu preparation as needless worry and think the flu is basically a bad cold. This is very wrong and a potentially deadly misunderstanding. In reality, the flu is a caused by specific viruses, is highly contagious, and can cause multiple serious symptoms, including:
The flu’s complications can lead to hospitalization or death, and it’s much more common than people think. Children and the elderly are most susceptible during cold & flu season, but according to the Centers for Disease Control, about anywhere from 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population gets sick from the flu, or about 26,176,000 million people a year. Round that figure up to about 31.4 million people who visit the doctor, and 200,000 who end up in the hospital, every flu season. Anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 people die each year from flu-related causes.
The flu has other costs, too. According to the National Center for Health Research, each year cold & flu season causes:
Think you can’t get it? Think again. Catching the flu is as easy as catching a cold. People infected with the flu virus can spread it up to six feet through airborne droplets exchanged when they cough, sneeze or just talk — and the virus can be spread before infected people experience any symptoms at all.
You can avoid the flu by being very proactive when it comes to your health, and that of those around you, during the winter months. Some basic steps:
Get a flu shot. Yes, you can still get the flu after a flu shot. But why take the risk? According to the CDC, the 2018-2019 series of flu vaccines reduced the risk of infection in adults by 45 percent to 47 percent, and those ae pretty good odds. In children from six months to 17 years old, it was effective for 61 percent to 62 percent. That was a big jump from the severe 2017-2018 season, when the vaccine was only 36 percent effective. It’s never going to be 100 percent effective, but the shot cuts your odds, and even if you do get sick it can lessen the severity of your symptoms.
Want to be a flu sleuth? You can follow how the flu is unfolding this year with a wealth of data from the CDC through its Weekly U.S. Influenza Surveillance Report, found here.
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