It’s a season just like winter, spring, summer and fall. However, unlike the four seasons, this is one we don’t look forward to: flu season. During the 2018-2019 flu season, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates 42.9 million cases of flu, resulting in up to 647,000 hospitalizations and up to 61,200 flu-related deaths.
“Flu remains the number one cause of vaccine-preventable death in the United States,” said Dr. Jonathan Perlin, president of clinical services and chief medical officer at HCA Healthcare. “The flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself, your family, vulnerable patients, elders, the immunosuppressed and others from serious illness this winter.”
Only half of Americans plan on getting the flu shot: here’s why you should
The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases recently conducted a survey to understand the beliefs surrounding the flu and prevention of the virus. The survey found that 60% of respondents believe that getting a flu shot is the best way to prevent flu-related illnesses and deaths. While the majority of respondents believe in the effectiveness of a flu shot, only 52% actually plan to get the vaccine.
Those who planned to opt out of a flu shot cited reasons such as concern with side effects or getting the flu from the vaccine.
“The flu shot cannot cause flu illness. There is no ‘live’ virus in the vaccine, so it cannot replicate in an individual’s body and therefore cannot give someone the flu,” says Dr. Kenneth Sands, HCA Healthcare’s chief epidemiologist. “Some people will have a mild reaction to the vaccination, typically locally at the injection site, which may include pain, redness and swelling.”
While the flu shot is not 100% effective, the CDC estimates flu immunization reduces the risk of illness by 40% to 60%.
“There are two reasons for getting the vaccine: 1.) It will help prevent flu altogether, although not necessarily 100 percent of the time, and 2.) If an individual is in the percentage that still contracts the flu after the vaccine, it’s probably going to be a milder case,” says Dr. Sands.”
Those who are interested in getting a flu shot have multiple options.
“In conjunction with the CDC, we are recommending an annual flu vaccination for everyone six months of age and older,” said Dr. Sands. “Talk to your doctor about an appropriate influenza vaccine for your age and health status. The most important thing is that you get a flu vaccine every year.”
Per the CDC, trivalent (three-component) and quadrivalent (four-component) flu vaccines are approved for the 2019-2020 flu season. The CDC breaks down available flu shots below:
Trivalent flu vaccines include:
- A high-dose trivalent flu shot, approved for people 65 years and older, which contains a higher dose of antigen (the part of the virus the immune system develops antibodies against), to help create a stronger immune response.
- A trivalent flu shot made with adjuvant, (an ingredient that helps create a stronger immune response), approved for people 65 years and older.
Quadrivalent flu vaccines include:
- Standard-dose quadrivalent flu shots without adjuvant that are manufactured using virus grown in eggs. Several different brands of this type of flu shot are available, and they are approved for different age groups. Some are approved for children as young as 6 months of age. Most flu shots are given in the arm (muscle) with a needle. One quadrivalent flu shot can be given either with a needle (for people aged 6 months and older) or with a jet injector (for people aged 18 through 64 years only).
- A quadrivalent cell-based flu shot containing virus grown in cell culture, which is approved for people 4 years and older.
- A recombinant quadrivalent flu shot (a flu shot that is made without influenza viruses or eggs) approved for people 18 years and older.
In addition to a flu shot, individuals can also help prevent getting the flu by taking these simple steps:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you don’t have a tissue available, it is best to cough into your elbow to prevent flu-virus particles from spreading.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- If you are sick with flu-like symptoms, the CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, except to get medical care or other necessities. (Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
Consider getting the annual flu vaccine to protect yourself and those around you. Call your healthcare provider today to schedule your flu shot.
HCA Healthcare is comprised of 184 hospitals and approximately 2,000 sites of care, including surgery centers, freestanding ERs, urgent care centers, and physician clinics, in 21 states and the United Kingdom. With its founding in 1968, HCA Healthcare created a new model for hospital care in the United States, using combined resources to strengthen hospitals, deliver patient-focused care and improve the practice of medicine.