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Editorial: Annual flu shots provide important protection

The Herald-Dispatch - 9/29/2017

Along with football and pumpkins, flu shot advertising has become one sure sign of fall.

But despite the marketing and media attention, less than half of adults typically get an annual flu shot. The Centers for Disease Control report that almost 60 percent of children and teens got a flu shot in 2016, but only about 41 percent of grownups did.

The most common reason for not getting a shot seems to be that people think they are healthy and just do not need it. However, public health officials stress that even the very healthy can get sick.

"I'm wondering if those people have ever had the flu," Dr. Michael Kilkenny, physician director at the Cabell-Huntington Health Department, told Herald-Dispatch reporter Bishop Nash recently. "The aches, fatigue, cough, fever - it's a very miserable condition even if you're healthy. It's not worth that to me."

Consider that annual flu-related hospitalizations in the United States have ranged from 140,000 to 710,000 since 2010, and deaths have numbered between 12,000 and 56,000 a year.

Flu infections also can be particularly hard on children, who face even more potential exposure because their interaction in school.

"It's one little stick for preventing potentially a week of illness," said Dr. Jennifer Gerlach, assistant professor of pediatrics at Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine.

There are also people who worry the vaccine is not safe or linked to other health complications, and the Internet helps spread more of those myths every year. A small number of people do have side effects after the shot, such as fever or nausea, but 50 years of research and hundreds of millions of immunizations have shown the vaccines are safe, doctors say.

If you have a concern, it is good to consult with your physician, but the CDC recommends an annual vaccine for everyone except children younger than 6 months and people with severe, life-threatening allergies to flu vaccine or its ingredients. Those might include gelatin, antibiotics or other ingredients.

The reason you need a shot each year is that influenza strains change, and flu vaccines are updated seasonally to provide the best protection against the virus strains that experts predict will circulate widely during flu season. It is not a perfect science, and some years, the vaccines work better than others. Generally, the shots are considered about 60 percent effective.

But that is important protection that not only protects individuals but also reduces the spread of the virus to family members, co-workers and children.

While the peak of the flu season typically comes in January or February, cases have already been reported in our region. So, it is not too early to get your shot, which lasts for six months and will provide protection throughout the season.

 
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