Flu season is headed our way and public health officials are advising everyone age 6 months and older to get a flu shot.
Last year, only an estimated 37.1 percent of adults got flu shots, down 6.2 percentage points from the previous flu season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Among children, the vaccination rate was 57.9 percent.
Those without vaccinations took a big chance.
The flu season last year was bad. Early estimates put the death toll at 80,000 with more than 900,000 people hospitalized, breaking previous records for both, according to the CDC.
Family doctor Dr. Matthew Blando, of the Mohawk Valley Health System’s Whitesboro office, agrees with that assessment. Both the Sister Rose Vincent Family Medicine Center on Hobart Street, where he was working last year, and local hospitals saw lots of flu patients, he said.
“We actually saw a lot of otherwise younger, healthier people who were getting hit hard enough with the flu that they were ending up in the hospital,” Blando said.
There’s no telling whether this year will be better or worse, which is a good reason not to take chances.
“The dangers of the flu are real, especially for the very young, for older adults and for those with other health problems,” said Oneida County Director of Health Phyllis Ellis in a release. “Getting a flu shot helps to protect not only you, but also your loved ones, friends and neighbors.”
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Blando described flu: “The biggest thing that people tend to get is the fever and the overall muscle aches, the pains all over the body. Along with that, they get the bad fatigue.
“When they’re really bad, in the hospital, they can get high-grade fevers, trouble breathing. Kids usually get the (gastrointestinal) stuff more, like nausea and vomiting, but even some adults were getting that last year.”
Afraid of needles? This year brings the return of one flu vaccine option that avoids them — the intranasal spray, approved for ages 2 through 49 except for pregnant women.
New this year is another medication to treat the flu for those unlucky enough to get it.
Last month the federal Food and Drug Administration approved Xofluza, which works differently than existing treatments. It’s approved for patients ages 12 and older with uncomplicated flu. Like other treatments, it must be given within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms.
To get the best protection, public health officials recommend getting the flu shot right away; it takes two weeks to be fully effective. But it’s not too late to get it until you get the flu, or flu season ends, officials say.
“The flu can hit you pretty hard,” Blando said. “Depending on how bad the strains are, it can cause a lot of serious complications like pneumonia, even heart and brain issues if it gets bad enough.”
The risks are even higher for people with underlying medical issues such as diabetes, asthma and immune deficiencies, he said.
Getting a flu shot doesn’t guarantee that a person won’t get the flu, but shots do lower the risk of serious complications, hospitalization and death, according to the CDC.
Flu shots also serve a more altruistic purpose.
“Another reason (to get a shot) is because if you’re vaccinated, it’s at least a little bit protective to people around you, friends and families,” Blando said.
Most of his patients are more than willing to get flu shots but there always are some who argue that they’ve never gotten the flu, he said. He tries to explain that they’ve been lucky and shouldn’t push their luck.
And some people think the flu shot could make them sick, he said. That might have been true years ago, but the vaccine doesn’t use live virus anymore, he said.
Contact reporter Amy Neff Roth at 315-792-5166 or follow him on Twitter (@OD_Roth).