Why you should get the flu shot this year (Even if you usually don’t)

Aches. Fever. Fatigue. If you’ve been bit by a flu bug, you know it. And believe it or not, these uncomfortable symptoms that typically accompany the flu are those that are experienced by the “lucky” ones.

That’s because rather than just sending you to bed, severe flu can hospitalize or kill you. In fact, the 2017-2018 flu season was one of the worst on record, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reporting 180 pediatric deaths, exceeding the previous record of 171 during the 2012-2013 season.

Although deaths for adults aren’t tallied, one measure of the severity of last season came from the Influenza Hospitalization Surveillance Network (FluSurv-NET), which found that overall hospitalization rates for all ages were the highest ever recorded.

Flu shots protect

Make no mistake: Flu shots are your best protection against the influenza respiratory infection. In fact, the CDC found that approximately 80 percent of last year’s pediatric deaths occurred in children who had not received a flu vaccination.

During the 2016-2017 flu season, the CDC estimates that the flu vaccination prevented an estimated 5.3 million influenza illnesses, 2.6 million influenza-associated medical visits and 85,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations.

Each year the vaccine is formulated to protect against the viruses that research shows will be most common during the upcoming season and is designed to protect against three flu viruses–an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus and an influenza B virus.

Although vaccines are recommended for nearly everyone over the age of six months, those who are most at risk are pregnant women, those over 65, those with health conditions that make them more susceptible to the flu and children.

Disadvantages of the flu shot

In rare cases, the flu shot is not recommended, so check with your doctor if you are allergic to eggs (flu vaccines contain a minute amount) or have had a bad reaction to a flu shot in the past. Virtually everyone else is a candidate.

The downsides are minimal: Contrary to popular belief, a flu shot cannot cause the flu as it is made up of flu viruses that have been killed or made unable to replicate in humans. At the most, you may experience muscle aches and fever for a day or two after the vaccine, which is likely a side effect of your body producing protective antibodies.

In addition, in some years the vaccine that is developed may not match the viruses that are most prevalent that season. But even if it is less effective, the shot still might offer some protection.

Finally, remember there is a two-week window before the vaccine takes effect so if you get sick before that, you were likely infected prior to receiving the shot.

Just say yes to a flu shot

If you’re thinking about getting a flu shot this year, even if you usually don’t, you are not alone. In fact, a survey from CVS finds that 22 percent of consumers who didn’t get a flu shot last year are more likely to be vaccinated this year based on the devastating 2017 flu season.

According to manufacturers, this year’s vaccine began shipping in August and will continue throughout October and November until all vaccine is distributed. And this year the nasal spray FluMist, an excellent alternative for those who cower from needles, will be back after a two-year hiatus, says the CDC.

For greatest protection, eligible adults should receive their shot by October, recommends the CDC. Many places, including local pharmacies and doctors’ offices, may offer the vaccine free of charge. Be sure to check with your human resources department to find out what coverage your company might offer.

Protecting yourself now is a gift that will keep on giving.