By Sheryl Kraft
Each year, tens of thousands of people lose their lives—and many more are hospitalized—from the flu. Don't tempt fate: Below, 9 excuses or misconceptions.
I know so many people who skip flu shots year after year, insisting they're not necessary since they never catch the flu anyway. Or they just don't have the time, think the vaccine is too costly or like to tempt fate.
If you are one of those people and/or don't believe in flu vaccines, I respect your decision.
But that's not to say I'm not going to try to change your mind.
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness. It can be mild—but it can also be severe and lead to death. Especially vulnerable and at high risk for complications are young children, pregnant women, older people and people with certain health conditions like asthma, heart disease, kidney or liver disorders, diabetes; or people with suppressed immune systems caused by AIDS, being on chemotherapy or chronic steroids; and people under 19 who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy.
OK, so what's your excuse?
READ: Natural Ways to Prevent and Manage the Flu
1. Think you can catch the flu from a flu vaccine? That's a myth. Chances are you had already been exposed to the germs before you got the vaccine. It takes a week or two for the vaccine to take hold.
2. Think healthy people don't need to be vaccinated? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone 6 months of age and older be vaccinated annually, as soon as the flu vaccine becomes available. The flu vaccine is most crucial for people at high risk of flu complications, including pregnant women, young children, people 65 and older and anyone with chronic illnesses such as asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease, as well as people who are on chemotherapy or other immune-suppressing drugs. The vaccine is also especially important for health care workers and for people who care for high-risk people, including infants. Click here for a complete list of high-risk conditions.
3. Think you're safe because you got the shot last year? Sorry, no. The virus mutates every year, so each year's injections are made to cover the most likely strains to cause an outbreak—that year.
4. Think you won't catch the flu, since you are careful to bundle up in cold weather, never go out into the cold with a wet head and eat a balanced diet? While all those things may help keep you healthy and better able to fight off disease, you can still catch the virus. It's likely to be around you in the winter, and germs may linger when windows are closed. Flu viruses spread through droplets made when infected people cough, sneeze or even just talk. It's also possible to get the virus by touching a surface or object already infected from someone else and then touching your own mouth, eyes or nose.
5. Think you're safe because flu season is just about over? The season can last as late as May, and some strains of flu are active even in summer (remember H1N1/swine flu?). It's in full-swing now, so there's still have plenty of opportunity to catch the flu.
6. Think it's no big deal—that the flu is just like a bad cold? Well, yes, sort of. But a really bad cold, with fever, headaches, fatigue and body aches, on top of the sore throat, cough and runny or stuffy nose that usually come with a cold. Flu also sometimes causes vomiting and diarrhea. And flu can lead to complications like ear infections, bacterial pneumonia, sinus infections, dehydration and worsening of chronic medical conditions (like asthma, diabetes or congestive heart failure).
7. Think you are too afraid of needles? A needle may not be necessary. If you're a healthy person between the ages of 2 and 49 and are not pregnant, you may be able to forgo the needle and instead get your vaccine via a nasal spray. Check with your health care provider.
8. Think that you can't get vaccinated, because you don't have a regular doctor? You need not go to a doctor to get the vaccine: Places that offer flu vaccines include clinics, health departments, pharmacies, college health centers and, if you're lucky, your employer or school. Check out this handy vaccine locator.
9. Think it's easy and quick to get rid of the flu—that all you need are antibiotics? The flu typically lasts anywhere from one to two weeks. And because it's a viral infection, antibiotics are ineffective; they only work against bacteria. (Some people do develop bacterial infections as a complication of the flu. So, if your symptoms drag on or worsen, you may want to get checked out.) Your doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs. These drugs cannot prevent flu, but they can make your symptoms milder and shorten the time you're sick. They also may help you avoid serious complications. However, they are most effective when taken at the start of the illness, so ask your doctor about prescribing them at the first signs of flu.