Commentary: Save a few lives, get a flu shot

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The next time you are in a crowd of a hundred people, look around and try to figure out who that one person will be who will die this year from the flu. Although the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not keep statistics on the number of flu-related deaths, WebMD, a trusted site for medical information, estimates that anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 people die in this country each year from the flu and flu-related illnesses.

People who have never had the flu often do not appreciate the severity of the disease, and that is why they do not think a vaccination to prevent the flu is a sensible thing to do. But the flu is not just a bad cold, it is a life-threatening illness for many people.

WebMD has also generated some statistics about the flu that are alarming because it is such a preventable disease. They note that, on average, 200,000 Americans will be hospitalized each year because of problems with the illness and that the average yearly cost of hospitalizations and outpatient doctor visits related to the flu is over $10 billion a year.

Those are alarming statistics for a preventable disease. Cost does not seem to be a factor for most Americans when they make excuses for not getting a flu shot. Most insurance pays for the vaccine, and there are a number of ways that people could get the shot for free.

The peak of the flu season is from December to February and it takes two weeks for a person to develop enough antibodies to protect against the disease after they have been vaccinated. People often say that they had a flu shot and that it caused them to get the flu. This is total myth.

The vaccine is a dead virus, which means you cannot get the flu from a flu shot. I suspect that in many cases where people get sick after a flu shot that they were incubating some sort of virus and did not know it and they just happened to get the vaccine a few days before their illness revealed itself to them.

Interestingly, anyone who I have ever met who did have the flu became very diligent about getting their flu shot every year after that. Young and healthy people might be able to fend off a bout with the flu, but they will remember how sick they were and will think twice about getting a flu shot.

Then there are those who have compromised immune systems and those who suffer from chronic disease. These people can die as a result of getting the flu. Their bodies are weak and being wacked with a potentially deadly virus coming to push them over a cliff.

As we age, our immune systems weaken and we become more vulnerable to diseases that younger people can fight off more easily. That is why the CDC recommends flu shots for anyone 65 or older. If you have had the flu, you know that is an experience that lets you know how close you can come to dying, similar to a bout with pneumonia.

In addition to saving your own skin, there is also another reason why people should get flu shots. According to the CDC, "Most healthy adults may be able to infect other people beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. Children may pass the virus for longer than 7 days. Symptoms start 1 to 4 days after the virus enters the body. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Some people can be infected with the flu virus but have no symptoms. During this time, those persons may still spread the virus to others."

The life you save might be your own and someone else's.

Richard Davis is a registered nurse. He writes from Guilford and welcomes comments at rbdav@comcast.net. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.

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