Flu season has arrived, posing serious health risks for those afflicted with certain chronic conditions and the elderly, and can affect people of all ages and result in hospitalization, health complications, and death.
35 million cases of flu are expected this flu season, which starts in October and continues into May. The peak season for the flu is December through February.
Dr Christopher Kleather, senior medical director of UnitedHealthcare of Ohio, says a number of myths exist about the flu:
Myth: Flu shots are not effective in preventing the flu.
“The flu vaccination can be up to 60 percent effective,” said Kleather. “I think part of the problem is, sometimes you run into those years like last year; I think one of the numbers I saw (last year’s flu vaccination) was only about 30 percent effective. So people think (the vaccination) is only 30 percent effective and decide not to get it.
“The flu vaccination is definitely your number one defense in keeping from getting the flu,” Kleather said.
Kleather said many people think that when they get a flu vaccination, they are actually getting a flu vaccine injection.
“That’s not true,” said Kleather. “Some of the flu vaccines don’t even contain any flu antigens in them. Some of them do but the antigens are not alive, so it’s technically impossible for you to get the flu from a flu shot.”
Kleather said a flu vaccination will not cause the flu in those who get a flu shot.
“The flu shot can weaken your body’s immune response, so you may be a little more susceptible to other illnesses,” Kleather said. “But then again, just depending on the vaccine for that year, you can still get the flu even if you’ve had a flu shot if you are exposed to a different strain (of the flu), a strain that wasn’t contained in the vaccination.”
A flu vaccination developed for a specific influenza strain will not remain effective from year to year because the strain changes, according to Kleather.
‘Sometimes we check in China because the seasons are alternating there,” Kleather said. “So we will check and see what the prevalent (influenza) strains are in China, and that’s how we decide what strain we’re going to make for influenza vaccinations in the U.S. And that’s not a perfect match because those strains can mutate, so by the time (the flu) reaches us here in the United States, those strains could have mutated and sometimes that’s why vaccinations are only up to 30 percent effective.”
• Myth: Those who exercise regularly and eat healthy do not need a flu vaccination.
“Being healthy and active and exercising might keep you healthy and it’s a good thing to do but it’s not going to decrease your risk of actually getting the flu,” Kleather said. “If you’re really healthy, you might recover faster or suffer less serious side effects (from the flu), but that doesn’t mean you won’t get influenza if you are exposed to it.
• Myth: Only the elderly and very young need a flu vaccination.
“The CDC recommends that anyone six months of age or older get a flu vaccination just (because of) the seriousness of (the flu),” Kleather said. “Now it is true, the younger you are, the older you are, and if you have chronic conditions, you will more likely suffer side effects from the influenza. Certainly the vaccination recommendation is not limited to the very young and the very old. It pretty much includes everyone six months of age or older.”
“(The elderly and the infirm)are the ones who should get the flu shot because they’re at the highest risk of complications from the flu,” said Kleather. “Not only the flu illness makes you sick but when you’re older and your immunity is compromised, the elderly tend to have more complications.
“The flu weakens the immune response meaning your body is less likely to fight off other infections that can come along when you’ve been exposed to the flu, and people with respiratory problems, COPD, and diabetes — those are the people who are most susceptible to influenza and the complications of influenza, and the very young.”
• Myth: Getting the flu is not a serious matter.
More than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications every year and 36,000 people die from it, according to the the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
“It’s really important that you start getting your flu shots in October. And it’s certainly not too late now,” Kleather said. “People should continue to get flu shots up to May 2019, and it’s really never too late to get them.”
“Certainly, the flu vaccine is the number one preventive measure you can take, but hand washing is really important, and getting pleanty of sleep and eating (healthy),” Kleather said. “And stress can affect it. And just as important is not going to work when you have the flu, not spreading it.”
Most insurance carriers , including United, will cover (the cost) of an influenza vaccination, according to Kleather.
“Most carriers (offer) their members the influenza vaccination at no cost,” said Kleather.
“You can pretty much get the flu shot anywhere at this time,” Kleather said. “You can go to urgent care and minute clinics. I recommend that most people go to their primary care doctor (for a flu vaccination) because their primary care doctors know their medical conditions and can make the right recommendations on how strong they feel about members getting the flu shot.”
Editor’s Note: This story is not meant to be taken as actual medical advice. Please consult your physician concerning any health issues, including vaccinations.