The question: Do I really need to get a flu shot?
Benjamin Franklin once said, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure."
This is never truer than when it comes to flu shots and avoiding the terrible illness caused by influenza. As an adult, if you become infected by the influenza virus, you may be more ill than you've been in your adult life. Symptoms like fever, body aches, shaking chills and an intractable cough may put you out of commission for 10-14 days.
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Across the U.S. every year, thousands and thousands of people come down with influenza. While most recover without consequence, there are always some fatalities and there is no way of predicting the severity of the illness in any one individual, or the severity of the most prevalent strains of flu virus in any given year. The 1918 worldwide flu pandemic is the worst health disaster of all time, killing up to 50 million people -- almost 3 percent of the world's population.
The CDC and World Health Organization recommend that everyone who is at least 6 months of age get vaccinate seasonally. It is especially important for people who have other medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma and chronic lung disease, and for pregnant women, senior citizens and health care providers or caregivers.
Almost all doctor's offices, pharmacies and clinics maintain a supply of the vaccine that is widely available this year. Vaccinations should be administered in early autumn, as flu season usually starts as early as October, and it may take up to two weeks for the vaccine to become effective. The vaccine protects against the most common strains of influenza as predicted by the WHO, and all injectable flu vaccines are produced from dead viral particles that do not cause infection or illness. Live attenuated FluMist administered by nasal inhalation may cause a temporary and mild fever or malaise, but is a much less common form of the vaccine.
The best treatment for any viral illnesses like the flu is to not get sick in the first place. Get a flu shot, wash your hands frequently, use hand sanitizer when applicable and wipe down shared keyboards, telephones and office equipment with antibacterial wipes. Cough into your elbow when you cough (so you don't transmit germs on your hands), and keep your fingers away from your eyes, nose and mouth. If you do become ill, please stay home from work or school so you don't infect everyone around you!
— Mark Melrose, DO, is a board-certified emergency physician at Urgent Care Manhattan. E-mail him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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