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Last year was a bust for most people in terms of getting a flu shot until late in the season. This year, there is ample supply, but many have not yet made the decision to get the shot. It’s still not too late.

So, should I get a flu shot?

Influenza is the most important acute respiratory infection that causes people to miss work and seek medical care. It affects all age groups, is highly contagious and has the capacity to kill. Influenza can resemble other winter viral infections which are often casually referred to as “flu,” but are unrelated to influenza.

The influenza infection usually begins with the abrupt onset of fever, muscle aches, headache, severe cough, severe fatigue, sore throat and runny nose. For most, the illness is self-limited and subsides after four to six days. However, cough and fatigue can last up to two weeks. The attack rate of influenza is high in all age groups; ten percent of all adults are infected annually. People with underlying medical problems such as diabetes, hypertension or heart or lung disease suffer the most severe infections and are most likely to be among the 20,000 deaths each year.

Influenza is spread from person to person by coughing and sneezing. Infected persons are capable of spreading the disease any time from one day before symptoms appear to five days afterward. The average period from exposure to symptom development is two days. Thirty-four percent of adults 18 to 64 years of age with influenza will visit the doctor. Each year seven percent of all doctor visits are attributed to this virus. Each person with influenza misses an average of 3.5 days of work. In addition, antibiotics do not attack influenza, as it is a virus.

The cornerstone of treatment and control is the influenza vaccine— the “flu shot”. The vaccine is an inactivated mix of three types of the influenza virus, adjusted annually depending on the specific virus found in the earliest cases. The most common side effect is soreness at the site of injection. One cannot get the flu from a flu shot; contracting symptoms of an upper respiratory illness or cold following a flu shot is purely coincidental.

The vaccine response peaks two weeks after the immunization and begins to decline after about three months. In the Midwest, the peak “flu season” is late December to early January. The ideal time for vaccination is late October to early November. However, studies show that vaccination throughout the season or until March will still be beneficial.

There is substantial evidence that giving influenza vaccinations to healthy adults under the age of 65 is effective in reducing outbreaks of the virus and can also cause a 27 percent decrease in the frequency of the common cold virus. Cost savings are seen from fewer lost workdays by 45 percent. Flu shots have been shown to save 0.4 workdays per vaccine recipient. Don’t let this common ailment keep you out of the field this fall and winter. IBI

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