It’s once again that time of the year to prepare for and protect ourselves against the flu. Thankfully, we have highly effective flu vaccines available to us through our local pharmacy or doctor’s office.
There are very compelling reasons to get the flu vaccine this year and every year. In the 2018-2019 flu season there were 9,828 people who were hospitalized for flu-related illnesses. Also, the 2018-2019 flu season was the longest in over a decade – 21 weeks long.
It is well proven that many cases of flu or flu-related illnesses are either preventable or made less severe with the flu vaccine. Despite annual efforts to publicize the reasons for getting the flu vaccine, in the 2018-2019 season, only 48% of Ohioans received the vaccine.
In my own practice, I find many individuals decline to have the vaccine due to their perception of side effects from the vaccine. In my experience, the side effects from the flu vaccine are few and far between, usually limited to a sore arm for one to two days at the vaccine injection site, and possible low grade fever and achiness for one to two days after receiving the vaccine. More serious side effects can occur, but are extremely rare.
General recommendations during the flu season include:
• Anyone 6 months or older should receive the vaccine, unless they have an egg allergy.
• Good hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent the flu and other infections.
• Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue, or cough into your elbow.
• Be sure to eat a healthy diet, stay well hydrated, get enough sleep, get regular exercise and avoid being in the presence of people who are sick, whenever possible.
• If you do become ill with the flu, be sure to stay home, so as not to spread your germs to other people.
While the flu vaccine is the best known vaccine in the eyes of the general public, it’s worth pointing out the high level of effectiveness of vaccines in general. It is estimated that vaccines prevent about 3 million deaths per year.
Vaccination has resulted in the elimination of the deadly disease smallpox. Polio is on the verge of being eliminated worldwide, also as a result of widespread vaccination. Annual measles deaths have diminished from 2.6 million in the 1980s to about 110,000 in 2017. Childhood deaths have been reduced by more than 50% since 1990, due to the impact of vaccines. Vaccines are one of the most successful innovations of modern medicine and have helped to make the world a healthier and safer place.
Dr. Mark Roth writes about internal medicine for the Cleveland Jewish News. He is an internal medicine physician with University Hospitals.