Flu season typically starts in October and tapers off in April. If you have never been hit by the flu, it can seem like you do not need to get a flu shot. However, the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) reported that the last two weeks of January saw a significant uptick in flu cases. In fact, during the 2019/2020 flu season, there have been at least 140,000 hospitalizations from complications of the flu as well as 8200 deaths due to the flu. For an employer, the flu can represent millions of dollars paid in health costs and lost productivity.
So what can be done about the flu? Do you really need a flu shot? And, do you really need one every year?
In this post, we will go over why everyone should get a flu vaccine every year, people who are at high risk for developing the flu, and flu-related complications that underscore the importance of getting the flu vaccine.
Do I really need a flu shot?
The first step to fighting the flu is to get a flu vaccine each year. But do I really need to get a flu shot each year? The short answer is: yes, you do.
In fact, it is recommended that anyone above the age of 6 months should receive the influenza vaccine each year. This has to happen each year so that you’re adequately protected.
Here’s why. The virus that causes the flu is a master of changing elements on its’ surface that your immune system (the system in your body that fights diseases) can recognize.
Think of it like the changing colors of a chameleon. Each year, the flu virus “changes its color” so that it is not obvious to the immune system and so avoids being destroyed.
Thus, every year, using special calculations, researchers come up with a vaccine that will be effective against the new virus of the season.
Therefore, the vaccine you received in 2017 for instance, worked for the virus from 2017. For the 2019/2020 flu season, it is very likely the virus is different and you would need a different vaccine.
This is why you should get a vaccine each year.
Who should get a flu vaccine?
Everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine. It is even more important for people that are at a high risk for developing complications from the flu. People in the high-risk category include:
- Adults over the age of 65
- Pregnant women
- People with heart disease
- A diabetic person
- A person who has a weakened immune system due to a condition like HIV/AIDS or cancer
- Children with neurological or neurodevelopmental conditions
- People who have asthma
- Children younger than 2 years
- People with blood disorders such as sickle cell disease
- People who are obese (Body Mass Index – BMI > 40)
While anyone could develop complications to the flu, the groups above are especially susceptible and are more likely to die from those complications.
Thus, if you find yourself in this group, you should get the flu vaccine as soon as possible.
Flu-related complications – the reason why these vaccines are so important
The flu vaccine will help you stay healthy and will help high-risk groups from developing complications of the flu.
Here’s a list of flu-related complications that could also lead to death.
- Pneumonia is one type of flu-related complication. Pneumonia is a bacterial infection that leads to the swelling of air sacs in the lungs which can then fill up with liquid. Once the air sacs fill up with liquid, breathing becomes very difficult.
- Bronchitis is another type of infection that affects the lining of the bronchial tubes in your lungs. These bronchial tubes are responsible for carrying oxygen from the environment to your lungs. If the bronchial tubes are unable to do this, it can also lead to breathing problems.
- The sinuses can become infected as well as the ears.
- Flu makes chronic health conditions worse. If a person with asthma gets the flu, it could increase the number of asthmatic attacks that person has.
- For people who have a weakened immune system, for instance, individuals with HIV/AIDS or cancer, because they have nothing to fight against the virus, the virus can cause an overwhelming infection that then kills the person.
Getting a flu vaccine is the best and first way to keep the flu out of your life.
For employers, this might mean making the flu shot free or providing it at a reduced cost to employees each season as part of your company health and wellness plan.
The flu virus is not one to be ignored.