Getting a flu shot not only helps you avoid the flu, it also protects people around you who are more likely to get sick — and possibly have complications, or even die. Texas Medical Association (TMA) physicians urge everyone over 6 months of age to get vaccinated now to have protection throughout flu season.
“When we get vaccinated, we help ourselves and we provide protection to people who are more apt to catch an illness and become sicker because of it,” said Bruno Granwehr, MD, a consultant to TMA’s Committee on Infectious Diseases. “In the case of flu, your shot helps you protect your children, grandchildren, your elderly parents or grandparents, your pregnant co-worker, or a cancer patient.”
Influenza, or the flu, is a severe illness much worse than a cold that spreads easily and can keep people sick for seven to 10 days. Most who get the flu will have mild symptoms, such as a cough and fever. For others, flu can lead to pneumonia or bronchitis, and potentially a hospital visit. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the following groups are most likely to suffer severe complications:
- Children under the age of 5 years, but especially those under 2 years;
- Adults 65 years of age and older;
- Pregnant women (and women up to two weeks after giving birth);
- Residents of long-term care facilities and nursing homes; and
- People with chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease.
“When we look at this list, most of us know someone who fits into one of those categories,” said Dr. Granwehr, an infectious disease physician from Houston. “Cancer patients are another vulnerable group because their bodies have a tougher time fighting off illness during cancer treatment. Your flu shot could protect them, and anyone most vulnerable to flu. Your shot could help a loved one.”
Nearly 70 percent of hospitalizations from flu-related illness are in people who are over age 65. And most (up to 85 percent) flu-related deaths are among the elderly. Yet people 65 years and older had one of the biggest drops in flu vaccination during the last flu season (2015-16), according to the CDC, down 3.3 percentage points.
Children also can be hit hard with flu-related illness. According to the CDC, more than 20,000 U.S. children younger than 5 years of age end up in the hospital each year because of flu complications. And because babies under 6 months of age can’t get vaccinated, they rely on the people around them, including their caretakers, to get vaccinated. Protecting people around us is called “community immunity,” explained Dr. Granwehr.
The vulnerability of newborn babies is another argument for pregnant women to get the flu shot. The vaccine protects mom AND her unborn baby. The baby remains protected by the mother’s immunity until about 6 months of age. Plus, flu usually is more severe for pregnant women and can lead to complications, including early labor and delivery.
This year, the CDC recommends flu shots for everyone. In addition to the standard flu shot, this year’s options include a high-dose shot for people 65 years and older, and an intradermal vaccine that uses a smaller needle injected into the skin instead of muscle. (The nasal spray flu vaccine is not recommended this year because of concerns about its effectiveness, though it was offered in the past.) Physicians suggest people talk with a doctor to choose the best vaccine.
The CDC recommends getting a flu shot in October for protection throughout the entire flu season, which can last from now through May. It takes about two weeks for the body to build protection to fight the flu.
TMA has produced a flu fact sheet and a flu facts infographic, in English and Spanish.
To find out where flu shots are available and other flu information, visit the Texas Department of State Health Services website, or visit www.flu.gov.