OPINION

Five myths about the flu

A flu vaccine at St. Luke’s Pediatrics Clinic in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)
A flu vaccine at St. Luke’s Pediatrics Clinic in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday, Jan. 24, 2018. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

Fall has arrived in Iowa, and so has the annual flu season. While flu — or influenza — is most serious for older Americans and people with certain chronic conditions, influenza can affect people of all ages and lead to hospitalizations, significant health complications and even death.

Most people have likely had the flu at some point — with symptoms such as a constant cough, sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches and fatigue — yet many myths and misperceptions remain. Here are five myths and facts that can help you and your loved ones reduce the risk of catching the flu.

Myth: Flu shots don’t really work.

Fact: The flu vaccine reduces the risk of contracting and spreading the disease by up to 60 percent, according to the CDC. The vaccine’s effectiveness depends on multiple factors — including the amount of time between vaccination and exposure to the disease, your age and health status — yet studies show that the flu vaccination benefits public health, especially when the vaccine is well matched to that year’s circulating viruses.

Myth: I got vaccinated last year, so I should be good for this year, too.

Fact: The flu virus changes each year, so flu vaccines change to keep pace. Plus, the body’s immune response to a flu vaccine declines over time, which means a yearly vaccination is the best option.

Myth: I exercise and eat healthy, so I don’t need to get vaccinated.

Fact: It is true being healthy may help you recover from illness more quickly, but it won’t prevent you from getting or spreading the flu virus. Even healthy people can be infected and spread the flu virus without showing symptoms.

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Myth: The flu vaccine is necessary only for the old and very young.

Fact: The CDC recommends flu shots for everyone 6 months and older, ideally by the end of October. Getting vaccinated later in the flu season — through January or even after — still can be beneficial. It is important to start early in the season for children, as two doses of the vaccine may be necessary, with the shots given at least four weeks apart.

Myth: Getting the flu is not that serious.

Fact: The CDC reports that more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications each year, while 36,000 die from it. Reducing the risk of flu is especially important for people who have certain medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or chronic lung disease; and for pregnant women, young children and people 65 and older.

Now is the time to get a flu vaccine, which is considered preventive and in most cases is covered through employer-sponsored, individual and Medicare and Medicaid health plans. Visit the CDC website at cdc.gov/flu to search for a nearby care provider based on your ZIP code.

• Dr. KellyAnn Light-McGroary is chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare.

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