Influenza infection rates usually peak around February in the United States, so now is an important time to look at some facts about the disease. Influenza, commonly known as “the flu,” is a serious and highly contagious virus that kills more Americans every year than all other vaccine-preventable diseases combined. And while the very young and very old are at the highest risk of serious influenza illness, all of us in the 50+ category should be concerned about this dangerous disease.
The best way to keep ourselves healthy and to protect those around us is to get vaccinated against the flu every year. However, as a physician, I often hear concerns from patients that lead them to avoid vaccination. Let me discuss some of them here.
• Vaccines do not cause the flu. The injected vaccine is made from dead virus and cannot cause influenza. Some people feel aches and even a little fever in the first day or two after vaccination, but the symptoms aren’t from the flu-they represent your immune response to the vaccination.
• Influenza vaccines are effective. In younger, healthy adults, the vaccine is 70 to 90 percent effective in preventing influenza. In older or sicker people, the vaccine is less effective, but can make the disease, if you get it, less severe.
• You can take the flu vaccine any time during the influenza season. Flu viruses circulate until early spring and in fact, cases usually peak in this country around February. It takes about two weeks to be protected after getting vaccinated, so now is a great time to go get a vaccine.
The bottom line? Speak with your doctor today about getting the flu vaccine and speak with your friends and family to make sure they’ve received the vaccine, too. Vaccinating in December, January and beyond will protect you and your families throughout flu season.
For more information on influenza and prevention, visit www.nfid.org or www.cdc.gov/flu/.
Please share your experiences with influenza and vaccination.
Susan J. Rehm, MD; Medical Director, National Foundation for Infectious Diseases; Vice Chair, Department of Infectious Disease, Cleveland Clinic