The cost of the flu

By Nicole Shields, M.D. - Contributing Writer

It’s that wonderful time of year again, fall! But with the beautiful foliage and cool, misty mountain mornings, also comes the dreaded flu.

The flu costs Americans an estimated $10 billion annually. What does that add up to for you? Aside from the misery of the flu and subsequent lost days of your life, the flu can have more serious implications. Admittedly, most people who get the flu recover without incident; however, each year the flu hospitalizes 200,000 people, many of those are children and the elderly.

While the severity of the flu fluctuates from year to year, it is estimated to kill between 3,000 and 49,000 people annually. To put that in perspective, that’s close to the number of women killed by breast cancer (approximately 40,000) each year. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is recommending everyone over the age of 6 months be vaccinated every year.

Why every year? Unlike other viruses and bacteria, the flu is, different every year. The influenza virus has the ability to change (mutate) and essentially recreate itself. Thus, there are many different strains of the flu, including several different animal species (avian and swine flu, for example). The United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have a reporting network that tracks influenza viruses throughout the world. This tracking enables the global health community to monitor disease activity and predict the appropriate components for the annual influenza vaccine. For the 2015-2016 flu season, there are four recommended strains for the current flu vaccine. Ask your healthcare provider for the quadrivalent flu vaccine to get the most protection this flu season.

The research shows our best defense against the flu virus is prevention: Vaccinate everyone, monitor flu activity globally and educate the public. There are two options for being vaccinated against the flu: Intramuscularly (needle in the arm) and nasally (spray in the nose). The intramuscular vaccine is composed of inactivated (killed) viruses, whereas the nasal vaccine are live attenuated viruses (only parts of the virus). If you are healthy, between the ages of two and 49, and not pregnant, you may opt for either. If you fall outside this category, then you should receive the intramuscular vaccine (the shot).

There are very few true reasons not to get the flu vaccine. Children are vaccinated starting at 6 months, but may require two doses to be fully protected. Have an egg allergy? The vaccine is manufactured using eggs. If your allergy involves hives and not symptoms of anaphylaxis or trouble breathing, then the flu vaccine is safe and should be given. It is difficult to measure the effectiveness of the flu vaccine for several reasons. Most notably, the sheer nature of the influenza virus and its ability to mutate makes it nearly impossible to predict exactly what strains to even vaccinate against. And, not everyone responds the same to the vaccine. So, no, you are not guaranteed to be protected against getting the flu if you get the vaccine. But, your chances are better if you get vaccinated than not at all. Contrary to popular belief, the flu vaccine does not give you the flu (there are lots of viruses, including the “cold,” going around this time of year).

The most common side effect is a sore arm. In fact, there are so many excuses and reasons people give for not getting the flu vaccine that the CDC, Harvard, WebMD and the Mayo clinic have complied resources debunking commonly held myths.

The good news is, almost all insurance companies cover the flu vaccine. One of the best places to get vaccinations is with your primary care physician. Often your provider’s office will have flu clinics or special hours for giving the flu vaccine that does not require an appointment. Don’t have a primary care provider or insurance? Many health departments and retail pharmacies are giving the flu vaccine at little or no cost. And the best time to get it? As soon as possible! The CDC recommends getting the flu vaccine ideally by October. It takes about two weeks for your body to build an immune response, so the sooner you get the flu vaccine the better.

Quadrivalent Flu Vaccines are available at the University Medical Clinic in Harrogate or New Tazewell, Tennessee. For more information, call 423-869-7193.

Nicole Shields, M.D. is the medical director of Lincoln Memorial University – DeBusk College of Osteopathic Medicine’s University Medical Clinic (UMC). The mission of the UMC is to provide the highest quality medical care possible for our community; in our community. Clinicians of the UMC are also full-time faculty members of LMU-DCOM.

By Nicole Shields, M.D.

Contributing Writer

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