Don’t fall for flu myths: get your flu shot early


Woman with flu bunlded in blankets, sipping a hot beverage

We tend to think of the flu as a winter illness, but October is the start of flu season in the United States, continuing on through May and generally peaking in January or February. It’s not too early to think about getting your flu shot now, and if you need a good reason, the Chicago Tribune reports on some news about the toll of last year’s flu season:

“More than 80,000 people died from the flu last season in the United States, according to early estimates from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Although it’s far lower than the almost 700,000 people who died in the U.S. during the so-called Spanish flu pandemic that hit worldwide 100 years ago, last season was a “record-breaking” death toll, the highest since at least the late 1970s, according to the CDC.

The flu deaths last season were nearly 10,000 higher than the estimated number who died from drug overdoses and almost double the number of those estimated to have died in motor vehicle crashes. An estimated 900,000 plus were hospitalized, the public health agency said. In Illinois, more than 2,300 were admitted to intensive care units for flu-related illness.”

Apparently, that isn’t evidence enough to convince people to get vaccinated – less than half of the population gets a shot each year. If you are a flu shot skeptic, the Harvard Medical School shoots down 10 common flu myths – check out the article to get the facts.

  • Myth: You can catch the flu from the vaccine.
  • Myth: Healthy people don’t need to be vaccinated.
  • Myth: Getting the flu vaccination is all you need to do to protect yourself from the flu.
  • Myth: The flu is just a bad cold.
  • Myth: You can’t spread the flu if you’re feeling well.
  • Myth: You don’t need to get a flu shot every year.
  • Myth: You can catch the flu from going out in cold weather without a coat, with wet hair or by sitting near a drafty window.
  • Myth: Feed a cold, starve a fever.
  • Myth: Chicken soup will speed your recovery from the flu.
  • Myth: If you have a high fever with the flu that lasts more than a day or two, antibiotics may be necessary.

Learn about who is most vulnerable to the flu from the CDC: People at High Risk of Developing Serious Flu–Related Complications. Get more facts about prevention, symptoms, treatments and more from flu.gov.

Today, there’s no excuse – it’s pretty easy to get a flu shot on the fly, you don’t even need to make a doctor’s appointment. You can get a flu shot at most major pharmacies and drug stores. If you’re unsure where to get a shot, check the vaccine finder. Here are some tips for getting free or cheap flu shots.

Your seasonal flu prevention reminder!


fight the flu graphic

Flu season runs from October through May, generally peaking from December through March. Flu vaccines can take a few weeks to kick in so it’s good to get your shot early. Find out the place closest to you at the HealthMap Vaccine Finder.

Health experts say that everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every season, but it’s particularly important for people at high risk for developing potentially serious complications. These include:

  • Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old
  • Adults 65 years of age and older
  • Pregnant women (and women up to two weeks postpartum)
  • Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • American Indians and Alaskan Natives
  • People who have medical conditions

There are a lot of myths about the flu and vaccines – for example, many people think you can get the flu from a vaccine or that healthy people don’t need a vaccine. Harvard Medical School separates fact from fiction in 10 Flu Myths. Another common myth is that the flu is just a very bad cold – wrong! This Healthcare Triage video explains the difference.

It’s time for that flu shot!


flu shotsInfluenza, the flu, a bug, the creeping crud – whatever you choose to call it, ’tis the season. Flu season generally starts picking up in October and peaks from December through March. Medical experts say that ideally, everyone 6 months and older should get a flu shot by early November. Flu vaccines are updated annually to match the diseases that are currently circulating. This year, only injectable flu shots are recommended.

While it is important for everyone to get a flu shot, there are certain populations at high risk for developing potentially serious complications. These include:

  • Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old
  • Adults 65 years of age and older
  • Pregnant women (and women up to two weeks postpartum)
  • Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • American Indians and Alaskan Natives
  • People who have medical conditions

Interestingly, the more people who get flu shots, the better off we all are through a principle called herd immunity – when a critical mass of people are innoculated, a measure of protection is strengthened. The wikipedia entry explains how this works for the flu:

“Influenza (flu) is more severe in the elderly than in younger age age groups, but influenza vaccines lack effectiveness in this demographic due to a waning of the immune system with age. The prioritization of school-age children for seasonal flu immunization, which is more effective than vaccinating the elderly, however, has shown to create a certain degree of herd immunity for the elderly.”

It’s easier than ever to get a shot these days – they are widely available – here’s a flu vaccine finder – just enter your zip code to find locations near you.

Seasonal and H1N1 flu seasons begin: stay informed


Here in Massachusetts, today’s local news headlines tell us that swine flu has infected 20,000 in the state since the virus first surfaced five months ago, with 11 associated deaths. Public health officials in Massachusetts say they are expecting the first doses of swine flu vaccine to arrive within about two weeks, and will be distributed to people at highest risk from the virus.
According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), in any given year, about 5% to 20% of U.S. residents will get seasonal influenza (or “flu”) each year. This year, in addition to the seasonal flu, the H1N1 flu virus (also called the Swine flu) is expected to have a second wave over the next few months. The CDC discusses those who are at risk:

In seasonal flu, certain people are at “high risk” of serious complications. This includes people 65 years and older, children younger than five years old, pregnant women, and people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions. About 70% of people who have been hospitalized with this 2009 H1N1 virus have had one or more medical conditions previously recognized as placing people at “high risk” of serious seasonal flu-related complications. This includes pregnancy, diabetes, heart disease, asthma and kidney disease.
One thing that appears to be different from seasonal influenza is that adults older than 64 years do not yet appear to be at increased risk of 2009 H1N1-related complications thus far.

Most people who contract either the seasonal or the H1N1 flu will recover within a few or a few weeks at most, but some people develop life-threatening complications such as pneumonia. The CDC states that about 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications each year, and more than 36,000 die.
For prevention, the CDC suggests:

  • Stay informed
  • Cough or sneeze into tissues, and then discard tissues
  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
  • Stay home if you are sick

Flu resources:
Seasonal flu shot locator
Flu.gov is a good source of information where you can get updated information. It includes information for individuals & families as well as for businesses, community planners & professionals.
H1N1 Flu information from the CDC. The CDC also posts flu updates of U.S. influenza activity based on key indicators, such as the number of doctor visits and hospitalization rates.
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) encourages consumers to include a flu response plan in their disaster preparations this year and offers tips for getting your insurance matters in hand.