Should You Get a Flu Shot?

Flu season is here and the FDA says it's not too late to get the vaccine.

Posted: 10/02/2012 08:20 PM EDT
Filed Under Health News, influenza

Flu season is among us. Experts are saying this year's influenza season is the worst in 10 years. And it's not too late to get a flu shot, the FDA says.

Despite flu vaccine campaigns and an abundance of vaccines available, in late September, USA Today reported that many Americans hadn't been vaccinated:

Vaccination coverage fell sharply with increasing age, peaking at a high of 75 percent of babies ages 6 to 23 months but falling to 39 percent of adults and 34 percent of teens ages 13 to 17. Forty-seven percent of pregnant women were vaccinated against the flu last year, according to the CDC. That's about the same as last year, but far below the CDC's goal of vaccinating 80 percent of pregnant women.

Flu shot rates in the Black community are low as well.

African-Americans aged 65 and older were 30 percent less likely to have received a flu shot in the past 12 months than their white counterparts, according to the Office of Minority Health. Forty percent of Black adults over 18 received a flu shot compared to 52.7 percent of their white counterparts. African-American youth are also less likely to be vaccinated.

So why is not getting a flu shot such a big deal?

The flu is not just a more serious version of a cold. Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses that can lead to serious health issues and sometimes even death. It's estimated that between five and 20 percent of the U.S. population contracts influenza, and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from complications of it. The CDC states that it's unknown how many people die from flu complications each year. But they do say that between the 1976-1977 and the 2006-2007 flu seasons, it ranges from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people.

And while that gap is large, the message is clear: The flu is not a game, especially for us.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2009, 35 percent of people hospitalized with the flu in 13 metropolitan areas were Black. Also, almost one-third of people hospitalized with complications from the flu had asthma.

Note that asthma-related hospitalization and deaths in general, not just from the flu, are approximately two to three times higher among African-Americans. There is also a serious link between diabetes and flu complications.

So with all that being said, who should get vaccinated?

Health experts recommend that people 65 years and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease), pregnant women, young children and those with compromised immune systems (such as people living with HIV/AIDS) should receive a flu shot.

But also keep in mind that even people who are considered to be healthy can get the flu, too. If you live with someone who fits any of the descriptions above and are not vaccinated and get sick, you're putting others at risk as well.

Remember, getting vaccinated isn't just about protecting your health, it's also about the people around you.

Learn about how to receive affordable or free influenza vaccines here.

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(Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images)

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