Flu season is fast approaching, and it is not something to take lightly! Each year, more than 200,000 Americans are hospitalized due to flu-related complications, and 90% of flu-related deaths occur in people ages 65 years or older. With alarming statistics like these, is it really worth the risk of getting sick and infecting yourself, loved ones, neighbors, and community?
Q. What is the flu?
A. The flu is a viral infection called influenza that affects the nose, throat, and lungs. It infects millions of Americans each year, and can cause symptoms lasting for up to two weeks.
Q. What are the symptoms of the flu?
A. Flu symptoms can often mimic symptoms from the common cold. However, there are some discerning symptoms that are specific for the flu, such as having a fever of 100 degrees or higher, which will assist you in your diagnosis. The most common flu symptoms are:
Chills and sweats
Q. How long can a person be contagious with the flu?
A. Often times a person can infect another person one day before demonstrating symptoms and up to seven days after symptoms have appeared. Those who are considered “at risk” could be contagious for longer periods of time.
Q. Who is considered at risk?
A. Older adults, young children, and people with certain health conditions are at higher risk for serious flu complications. On average annually in the United States, 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu; over 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications; and about 24,000 people die from the flu-related causes.
Q. How can I prevent getting the flu?
A. The best way to prevent or lessen the severity of the flu is to get a flu shot each year. Contrary to common belief, you cannot get the flu from a seasonal flu shot. In addition, good preventative health habits, such as washing your hands and covering your sneezes can help. Although there are no guarantees, you'll have peace of mind knowing you're doing all you can to keep yourself and your family flu-free.
Q. Are there various types of the flu vaccination?
A. Yes, there are three common types of flu vaccinations: regular dose, preservative-free, and high-dose preservative-free. Depending on your age and any allergies you may have will help determine which flu vaccination is good for you.
The regular dose vaccination is the most common type of flu shot and can be given to anyone who is six months or older. The preservative-free vaccination is recommended for anyone who might have an allergy to thimerosal, which is a mercury-based preservative that has been used in vaccines for decades in the United States. The preservative-free high-dose vaccination is only designated for seniors who are 65 years or older.
Q. How much does the flu shot cost?
A. The regular does and preservative-free vaccination costs $25 while the high-dose preservative-free vaccination costs $45. There is no out-of-pocket expense for patients who present a Medicare of Health First Medicare HMO care at time of immunization.
Q. Does the higher dose vaccine produce a better immune response in adults 65 years and older?
A. Data from clinical trials comparing the regular vaccine to the high-dose vaccine among persons age sixty-five years or older indicate that a stronger immune response (i.e. higher antibody levels) occurs after vaccination with high-dose. Studies are currently underway to determine whether or not a stronger immune response will lead to a decrease in influenza.
Q. Is the high-dose vaccine safe?
A. Yes. The high-dose vaccine is safe and approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The side effects from the high-dose vaccine are similar to that of regular flu vaccine. The most common side effects experienced were mild and temporary and included pain, redness, and swelling at the injection site and headache, muscle aches, and slight fever. Most people have minimal or no side effects after receiving the high-dose vaccine.
Q. Who should not be vaccinated?
A. There are some people who should not get a flu vaccine without first consulting a physician. These include:
People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs.
People who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination.
People who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) within 6 weeks of getting an influenza vaccine.
Children less than 6 months of age (influenza vaccine is not approved for this age group).
People who have a moderate-to-severe illness with a fever (they should wait until they recover to get vaccinated).