By Dr. Karen Cassidy, Market Medical Director, UnitedHealthcare of Tennessee
We’re in the midst of a severe flu season, but it’s not too late to help protect yourself and your family from getting the flu.
Influenza is a serious disease that typically peaks in February and runs through March. About 5 percent to 20 percent of Americans get the flu each year, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
The flu can cost the United States more than $87 billion annually and can be responsible for the loss of about 17 million workdays and substantial classroom time each flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unfortunately, the flu is not just a cause of missed work and school. Every year, thousands of people die from influenza and its complications.
The best way to protect yourself and reduce your chances of getting the flu is to get the flu vaccine, according to the CDC. Everyone who is at least 6 months old should get the flu vaccine. Getting vaccinated 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 age 65 and older.
Despite the evidence and recommendations, many people won’t get vaccinated, which makes it more likely they will get and transmit the flu. That puts your own personal health and well-being at risk, and it could increase the chances of your family, friends, co-workers and neighbors getting sick, too.
The flu vaccine is not expensive. In most cases, the cost of a flu shot or nasally administered vaccine is covered by your health plan, whether you buy health insurance on your own or are covered through your employer, Medicare or Medicaid. However, be sure to check your benefit plan for specific coverage details. More employers are now offering free flu shot clinics at the office.
Getting the flu vaccine is fast, easy and convenient. It generally takes no more than five minutes. Most neighborhood pharmacies offer walk-in options so you don’t need to make an appointment. You can also go to your primary care doctor or a nearby wellness clinic. To find a list of flu shot providers near you, visit Flu.gov and enter your ZIP code, or ask your health plan how to find a network care provider.
There are two kinds of flu vaccines. One is an injectable vaccine and is available to everybody 6 months or older. The nasally administered vaccine may be given to children older than 2 years of age and adults up to age 50 who do not have chronic diseases. Ask your doctor or pharmacist which vaccine is right for you.
Young, healthy people get the flu, too. Influenza does not discriminate against age or health habits. Just because you’re young or don’t typically get sick doesn’t mean you can’t catch the flu. You can catch the flu from someone who has yet to exhibit any symptoms of being sick.
In addition to getting vaccinated, remember to take preventive measures like washing your hands regularly and covering your mouth when you cough to help reduce the spread of germs. And if you are sick with the flu, stay home to prevent spreading the flu to others.
Flu season typically peaks this month and lasts through March, so if you haven’t got the flu vaccine yet, make an appointment today. Now is the time to make your and your family’s health a priority.