By Gale Burstein, Daniel Stapleton and Richard Vienne
If you are among those who doubt the effectiveness a flu shot has in preventing the flu, think again. Your decision to get the vaccine could prevent you from being the person who passes the virus around to everyone at home, the office, school or health club. Even worse, you could be the person to pass influenza to a young child, elderly person or loved one with a chronic disease who could become very ill with an influenza infection. We believe there is a social responsibility for getting a flu vaccine.
For some people, the flu results in a fever, the chills, body aches, cough and a runny nose. But for the very young, the very old, women who are pregnant and individuals with compromised immune systems, catching the flu can place them at high risk for much more serious complications, including death. It isn’t always obvious who among us is most vulnerable.
One person with the flu can infect other people one day before any symptoms develop, and up to about seven days after they become sick. The virus can spread to others up to about 6 feet away, mainly by microscopic droplets expelled into the air when people cough, sneeze or even talk. Statistically, every 100 people who get the flu will infect 127 other people, according to a 2012 study published in the journal BMC Infectious Diseases.
The flu season is well underway. As of Oct. 28, the number of confirmed cases of the flu in New York State is greater than the number of cases reported by this time last year, according to the New York State Department of Health. The number of hospitalizations associated with influenza so far this year also exceeds the number of influenza-associated hospitalizations at this time last year. If these trends continue, we may all suffer a bad flu season.
The flu vaccine may be more effective than you believe. The CDC estimates that in the 2015-2016 flu season, the flu vaccine prevented approximately 5.1 million cases of the flu in the U.S., 2.5 million influenza-associated medical visits, 71,000 hospitalizations and an estimated 3,000 pneumonia and influenza deaths.
The CDC recommends annual flu vaccines for everyone 6 months and older. It takes about two weeks after being administered for the vaccine to provide protection, and it is never too early or too late in the flu season to get a flu vaccine.
A flu vaccination is an opportunity for you to protect yourself and those you love. This season, skip the excuses and get the flu vaccine.
Gale Burstein, M.D., M.P.H., FAAP, is Erie County health commissioner. Daniel Stapleton, MBA, is public health director of Niagara County. Richard Vienne, D.O., is vice president and chief medical officer at Univera Healthcare.