By Catherine E. Palmier, Chief medical officer, northeast and southeast regions, UnitedHealthcare
To the editor:
The leaves are beginning to change color, and temperatures are finally starting to dip. Fall has arrived in Virginia, and that means it’s also the beginning of flu season.
Influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and even death. The illness causes missed work and school days. In 2010, Americans missed 100 million workdays because of flu-related illness, taking more than $10 billion from companies’ bottom lines.
The best way to protect yourself and reduce your chances of getting the flu this year is to get vaccinated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, everyone who is at least 6 months old should get a flu vaccine.
It is increasingly important for people who have certain medical conditions — such as asthma, diabetes or chronic lung disease — to get vaccinated. Pregnant women, children younger than 5, and people 65 and older also should get a flu shot.
Despite the evidence and recommendations, thousands of Virginians won’t get vaccinated this year. Not only does that put your personal health and well-being at risk, but it increases the chances of your family, friends, co-workers and neighbors getting sick too.
Consider the following:
Getting the shot will not give you the flu. According to the CDC, the flu shot vaccine is made with either inactivated flu viruses — therefore not infectious — or with no flu vaccine viruses at all. Many people report experiencing flu-like symptoms after getting the vaccine, such as muscle pain or weakness, but these symptoms go away after a day or two and are much less severe than the actual flu.
Young, healthy people get the flu, too. Influenza does not discriminate against age or healthy habits. Just because you’re young or don’t typically get sick doesn’t mean you can’t catch the flu.
According to the CDC, people who have the flu can spread it to others from as far as six feet away. You also can catch the flu from someone who has yet to exhibit any signs or symptoms of being sick.
The flu shot is not expensive. In most cases, the cost is covered by your health insurance plan, whether you buy health insurance or are covered through your employer, Medicare or Medicaid.
Increasingly more employers are offering free flu shot clinics at the office. If you get the flu, the cost of treating it and the potential for missed days of work or school far exceed the cost of the vaccination.
Getting the flu shot vaccine is fast, easy and convenient. It takes no more than five minutes. Most neighborhood pharmacies even offer walk-in options, so you don’t need to make an appointment.
If you are unemployed or your employer doesn’t offer flu shots, you can go to your primary care doctor, a nearby wellness clinic, most retail pharmacies or contracted flu shot providers. To find a list of flu shot providers near you, visit www.publichealth.va.gov/flu.
Make your and your family’s health a priority this year by getting a flu shot. If you do, you’ll likely be able to enjoy the upcoming holidays a bit more.