Winter is coming and it’s bringing flu season with it. We dread getting the flu; from the moment we hear a coworker sniffle, to the moment spring arrives. On average, 5% to 20% of the U.S. population will get the flu every year. 200,000 of these cases will require hospitalization. But influenza isn’t just an inconvenience, it can be deadly.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have recorded flu data for over 40 years. In the 31-year period between 1976 and 2007, influenza-related deaths ranged from 3,000 to 49,000 people every year. In more recent years, 80% to 90% of these deaths were people 65 and older.
Every flu season is different. Some years are worse than others. Influenza effects everyone differently. Some people’s immune system handles it well and others require medical attention. Regardless of how healthy you are, it’s best to avoid getting sick whenever possible. There is one easy way to decrease your chances of contracting influenza this year: get the flu shot!
Who Should Get a Flu Shot
Since anybody can get the flu, the CDC recommends that almost everyone 6 months and older should get a vaccinated once a year. This is even more true for groups at risk for severe complications of influenza, such as pneumonia. Those at risk include:
- Children under the age of 5
- American Indian and Alaska Native children
- Children and adults with chronic health problems (heart disease, liver disorders, diabetes, etc.)
- Pregnant women
- Adults over the age of 65
There are a few select groups of people who should not get vaccinated. Flu shots should not be given to:
- Babies younger than six months
- Anyone with a high fever
- Those who have had Guillain Barre syndrome in the prior six weeks
- People who have had allergic reactions to the flu vaccine in the past
- Those with egg allergies (consult with doctor about eligibility)
- People who are allergic to any components of the flu vaccine
Pros and Cons of the Flu Vaccine
The flu vaccine is incredibly helpful. It cuts down on cases of the flu and protects those already ill from suffering further complications. That said, there are some potential downsides. Check out these pros and cons to decide if the flu shot is right for you and your family.
Flu Shot Pros
- Reduced risk of contracting influenza.
- Reduced risk of flu-related hospitalization.
- It can help those with chronic health problems reduce their risk of getting sicker.
- It protects pregnant women before and after they give birth. This also protects the baby during pregnancy and for a few months after it is born.
- If you still get the flu, the shot may lessen the severity.
- It protects your family, friends, and those around you.
Flu Shot Cons
- The flu shot is only about 60% effective, so you can still get the flu.
- Influenza vaccines do not protect against every type of flu. Popular strains are incorporated into the vaccine each year but it doesn’t include everything.
- You may see swelling, soreness, or swelling at injection site.
- Mild fever
- In rare cases, patients may experience severe allergic reactions, trouble breathing, facial swelling, unsteady heartbeat, dizziness, or high fevers.
Where and When to get the Flu Shot
Winter is flu season, so the CDC recommends that people get flu shots in October to protect themselves. Don’t worry though. If you forget to get vaccinated, you can typically get flu shots all winter long, sometimes as late as January.
There are plenty of places to go to get your flu shot, regardless of what insurance you have:
- Your doctor’s office
- The local health department
- Pharmacies (Walgreen’s, CVS, etc.)
- Flu vaccines are even offered by many employers, college campuses, and schools
If you’re having trouble finding a place to get your flu shot, check out this handy Flu Vaccine Finder!