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If you think the flu is just a bad cold, think again. It is estimated that 80,000 Americans died from the flu and flu-related illnesses last year. Influenza is a killer and that death rate is fueled by a lot of ignorance.

Too many people do not understand the severity of the flu because they have never had it. Anyone I have met who has had the flu is often the first in line to get their flu shot the next year. There are a million excuses for not getting a flu shot but they do not outweigh the benefit.

First, let's dispel the oft-repeated myth that people get the flu right after they get a flu shot. That does not happen. The vaccine is not a live virus so people cannot get the flu from a shot. Most likely, people who claim they got sick from the shot probably had something cooking when they got the shot.

Then there is the excuse that the vaccine is not effective enough. No vaccine is perfect and the flu vaccine does fall short at times because when the vaccine is developed it is based on an educated guess of what strains will prevail in the coming flu season. Even if it does not cover all strains, a flu shot will help prevent a severe case even if it does not completely prevent illness.

Some people think that if they haven't got a flu shot by the end of October then it's too late. But it is never too late. The incidence of flu begins to peak in November. It takes about two weeks for the shot to reach full effectiveness.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "Optimally, vaccination should occur before onset of influenza activity in the community. However, because timing of the onset, peak, and decline of influenza activity varies, the ideal time to start vaccinating cannot be predicted each season. Moreover, more than one outbreak might occur in a given community in a single year. In the United States, localized outbreaks that indicate the start of seasonal influenza activity can occur as early as October. However, in 75% of influenza seasons from 1982-83 through 2017-18, peak influenza activity (which often is close to the midpoint of influenza activity for the season) has not occurred until January or later, and in 58% of seasons, the peak was in February or later."

There is a high risk group of people who have more of a chance of dying from the flu. They should not even think about not getting a flu shot. This group includes: all children aged 6 through 59 months; all persons aged 50 and older; adults and children who have chronic pulmonary (including asthma) or cardiovascular (excluding isolated hypertension), renal, hepatic, neurologic, hematologic, or metabolic disorders (including diabetes mellitus); persons who are immunocompromised due to any cause (including immunosuppression caused by medications or by HIV infection); women who are or will be pregnant during the influenza season; children and adolescents (aged 6 months through 18 years) who are receiving aspirin- or salicylate-containing medications and who might be at risk for experiencing Reye syndrome after influenza virus infection; residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities; American Indians/Alaska Natives and persons who are extremely obese (body mass index greater than 40).

During the flu season it is also important to consider how the virus spreads. You may not think you need a shot, but consider the population of people that you come in contact with on a regular basis. You can't assume that everyone else gets a flu shot.

You may have contracted the flu and, before you experience symptoms, you are capable of spreading the virus. That means that you could be responsible for the severe illness or death of someone you have simply been with in the same room.

There are a lot of excuses for not getting a flu shot. None of them outweigh the life and death nature of the disease.

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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