Happy New Year everyone. I hope you made it through the Holidays exhausted (for all the right reasons) and healthy. I don’t have to tell you that this is the time of year when well-meaning friends and families gather without letting you know they are harboring the sniffles or the flu, but I will remind you that even though we are in the middle of winter and flu season it is not too late to get your flu shot.
So before you push back and declare that you’ve made it this far without getting sick so you’ll take your chances, let me throw some facts your way. Real facts. Real science. The stuff that really can save your life.
Last year 40 million Americans were sickened with the influenza virus and 60,000 (Centers for Disease Control data) of those people died. 60,000! If that many people died in airplane crashes we would be calling for a national investigation. What makes this number so insane is not just because of its enormity but because so many of those deaths were preventable. A shot, a single, safe shot that allows your body to make its own antibodies against the prevailing flu virus of the season can save your life. And let”s put one old wive’s tale to rest forever. You cannot get the flu from a flu shot. (If you got the flu shot in the past and came down with a cold a few days later, you were already exposed to a cold virus).
The CDC and World Health Organization keep an eye on influenza outbreaks as they occur around the world. How the virus behaves as it zips through the Southern Hemisphere serves as a predictor for how severe the outbreaks may be in the United States. Each year the vaccine is tailored in expectation for which strains may be most infectious. In 2018 up to 6.7 million flu cases, 87,000 hospitalizations, and 10,000 deaths were prevented by people who got the shot. No shot is 100% effective but even having some protection on board can help. If you still get the flu, having the antibodies in your system will make the symptoms less severe and not last as long. It can take two weeks for your body to make the antibodies, so getting your shot now will protect you for the rest of the winter and well into the spring.
If you miss the window, don’t get the shot, and do get sick, all your mom’s advice still holds true. Stay in bed and rest. Give your body a chance to heal. Drink lots of liquids to minimize dehydration. Staying hydrated will also thin the nasal and throat secretions. OTC cough medications are OK, but they will hardly make a dent in a painful influenza cough. If you find that the cough hurts your chest and keeps you up at night, talk to your doctor about a prescription cough suppressant.
Remember that antibiotics are worthless in treating viruses. So don’t take them just because you are suddenly under the weather. Needlessly taking antibiotics can put you at risk for more serious infections down the road when antibiotics may not work. - an increasingly common problem known as antimicrobial resistance. The only reason to take antibiotics is if you develop secondary pneumonia. Pneumonia is a serious infection and common flu complication and is a leading cause of death in people who get infected. If you are diagnosed with pneumonia, make sure you are on the right antibiotics, follow the directions, and take them until they are all gone.
So now, while you check with your pharmacist about getting your shot (did I tell you they are free?!!), remember to do all the other things you can to stay healthy this winter. Eat well, get enough sleep, wash your hands frequently, sneeze into your elbow, and tell anyone with a cold or flu that you are just fine rescheduling your meeting when everyone is feeling better. Happy New Year.