When it comes to the flu, memory can be deceiving. Many adults mistakenly think it is no big deal, like the common cold. But the flu sends more than 200,000 Americans each year to the hospital — and a simple vaccination can protect you from many strains of the virus.
“Until it hits your household, you don’t realize how serious the flu can be,” stresses Dr. Dyan Hes, medical director at NYC’s Gramercy Pediatrics. “It makes you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck,” Hes says. “You have a high fever, sore throat and vomiting. Kids miss a lot of school, and you may have to stay home from work.”
While the CDC recommends annual flu shots for anyone over 6 months old, Hes reminds parents to be especially vigilant about vaccinating their kids. Last year she saw a few cases of the flu among families who declined the vaccination — and later regretted it.
People have options for the vaccination. Most doctors use the standard four-strain shot for as long as supplies last, although availability may be limited to a three-strain version later in the season. There is also the intradermal flu vaccine, which is approved for adults and uses a smaller needle to enter the skin instead of the muscle. And although a nasal spray vaccine might do the trick for the totally needle-phobic, Hes cautions that a spurt of liquid up each side of the nose might ultimately be less pleasant than getting poked.
“The shot itself doesn’t really hurt — it’s more the anxiety,” Hes explains.
Despite greatly reducing your risk of getting sick, no flu shot is a foolproof preventative. There are many strains of the illness, and they are constantly changing. Even after getting vaccinated, Hes says, people should practice good hygiene by doing things like washing their hands after getting off the subway. For anyone who does notice symptoms like fever, sore throat, chills and vomiting, Hes urges a doctor’s visit for a prescription for Tamiflu.
“You can’t cure the flu, but you can shorten its course,” she says.
Help the kiddos
Parents can help prepare wary tykes for a shot by playing doctor at home. “They can pretend to be a doctor, and give their doll or dinosaur a shot,” Dr. Hes says. The day of the vaccination, older siblings can also set an example by receiving their shots first. That way, younger kids are assured it isn’t so scary.
You don't need to hit the doctor for a flu shot (though that is an option). Walgreens and Duane Reade pharmacies offer them on a walk-in basis or by appointment, and the stores take insurance. For every vaccination administered at one of these locations through Oc. 14, Walgreens will donate the value of a life-saving vaccine to the United Nations Foundation's Shot@Life campaign. Shot@Life immunizes children worldwide against diseases like polio and measles. Visit www.walgreens.com for information.