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My View: Vaccine is cheap, easy way to fight flu

Prevention is good for health, helps others avoid nasty bug


The holidays are gone, the new year is here, and winter has arrived in Oregon — and with that, flu season.

And it’s still not too late to get your flu shot.

The seasonal H1N1 strain is affecting many people, including healthy children and young adults. Hospitals in Oregon are reporting an increase in flu hospitalizations. The best defense against influenza is vaccination.

Influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. The illness causes missed work and school days. In 2010, Americans missed 100 million work days due to flu-related illness, resulting in more than $10 billion in costs to companies’ bottom lines.

The best way to protect yourself and reduce your chances of getting the flu this year is to get a flu vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, everyone who is at least 6 months old should get a flu shot. It is increasingly important to get vaccinated for people who have certain medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or chronic lung disease, pregnant women, children younger than 5, and people 65 and older.

Despite the evidence and recommendations, hundreds of thousands of Oregonians won’t get vaccinated this year. Not only does that put your own personal health and well-being at risk, but it increases the chances of your family, friends, co-workers and neighbors getting sick, too.

Consider this:

• Getting the shot will not give you the flu. According to the CDC, the flu shot vaccine is made with either inactivated flu viruses (and therefore not infectious) or with no flu vaccine viruses at all. Many people report experiencing flu-like symptoms after getting the vaccine, such as muscle pain or weakness, but these symptoms go away after a day or two, and are much less severe than the actual flu.

• Young, healthy people get the flu, too. Influenza does not discriminate against age or healthy habits. Just because you’re young or don’t typically get sick doesn’t mean you can’t catch the flu. According to the CDC, people who have the flu can spread it to others from as far as 6 feet away. You also can catch the flu from someone who has yet to exhibit any signs or symptoms of being sick.

• The flu shot is not expensive. In most cases, the cost of a flu shot is covered by your health insurance plan, whether you buy health insurance on your own or are covered through your employer, through Medicare or Medicaid. More employers are now offering free onsite flu shot clinics at the office. If you get the flu, the costs of treating it and the potential for missed days of work or school far exceed the cost of the vaccination.

• Getting the flu shot vaccine is fast, easy and convenient. Getting a flu shot takes no more than five minutes. Most neighborhood pharmacies even offer walk-in options, so you don’t need to make an appointment. If you are unemployed or your employer doesn’t offer flu shots, you can go to your primary care doctor or nearby wellness clinic, most retail pharmacies or contracted flu shot providers. To find a list of flu shot providers near you, visit flu.oregon.gov and enter your ZIP code.

Beyond getting your flu shot, other ways to stave off illness include:

• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue or your arm when you cough or sneeze.

• Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.

• Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers also are

effective.

• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.

• Try to avoid close contact with sick people.

• Stay home if you become sick.

Make your and your family’s health a priority by getting a flu shot. If you do, you’ll likely be able to enjoy 2014 a little more.

Dr. Roger Muller is the chief medical officer at UnitedHealthcare Pacific Northwest in Portland.