Before you start reading this, go to your local pharmacy/primary care physician & get your seasonal influenza vaccine.
I’m kidding. Read this first, if you feel like you could use some convincing. But please – when you’re done reading this…go get your damn flu shot. Let me explain why, okay? Let’s do this! For health! For less fatigue! For overall contentment.
Okay. First off, what is the flu, & why is it a big deal?
We could get into pages upon pages of articles, research, history books, & a whole lot more material – but let’s keep it short & sweet. If you want to know all about influenza/the flu & its history, it’s right at your fingertips – trust me. But here’s what I think we all need to know.
“The flu” is short for influenza, which is a virus. It’s been around for a long time (ex. Spanish flu) & tends to morph from year to year.
The flu is short-term; it usually resolves within a matter of days/a few weeks, can be treated quite easily, & can, of course, be prevented with a flu vaccine.
The flu spreads VERY easily – according to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) there are over 3 million cases a year in the United States alone. That’s a lot of people. The flu will vary in degrees of severity, but officially, it affects 3 million people per year…in the U.S. alone.
The flu attacks the lungs, the nose, & the throat; these are all mucous membranes, & viruses can spread more quickly & easily through these membranes. For most, the flu is treated with either over-the-counter medications like Tylenol/Aleve for the fever, or prescribed antibiotics. The more hydrated you are, the better – the flu dehydrates your system, so keeping up on fluids is important if you do have the flu already. Rest, drink water & juice, & rest. Of course, check in with your PCP (primary care physician) if your fever is too high, your symptoms are starting to get weird, etc. In my opinion, you should always go to the doctor when you’re not feeling well (if you’re able). This way, you could possibly nip something like the flu in the bud, & not have to pay more for antibiotics/Tylenol/etc. It could save you time, money, & trouble – that’s what I call a win/win/win.
Like I said, the flu always changes, which is why it’s important to get a vaccine every single year. This isn’t like a MMR shot; it’s not a one-&-done, it’s a long-term affair. Yes – that’s inconvienient, but once you look at the symptoms of the flu, it’s a small price to pay.
The most “normal” or “common” flu symptoms will most likely be some of (not always all!) of the following:
- muscle aches
- runny nose
There are more symptoms, & obviously they’ll vary from person to person, but these are, across the board, most common. They’re experienced by “healthy” individuals – people who may not have a fun time with the flu, but will not experience severe side effects if they’ve caught it. That’s the majority of the population; they’re called “low-risk” patients.
There’s another, smaller group that is the opposite of low-risk patients in most ways. They’re called…high-risk. Creative! The high-risk patient category includes young children, those who are pregnant, older adults. Last (but most certainly not least), it includes: those with chronic illnesses/conditions &/or weakened immune systems. Hey! That’s me!
What makes me (personally, I mean) a high risk patient? My chronic illness, the medications I am taking for my chronic illness, & my weakened immune system, which is all thanks to the low-dose chemotherapy medication I have taken & will continue to take – it helps my body accept the drugs I need to treat my illness, but it weakens the immune system. It weakens it a LOT.
I had a normal blood panel before I was hospitalized for the first time (in March of 2015). A normal blood panel means…that everything in your panel is in the normal range. Now, two years after diagnosis & various powerful medications, my white blood cell count is very low. That makes me prone to infections of any kind, & puts me at a higher risk of catching the flu than your average Joe. It gets better – like I said, the high-risk category faces all the symptoms low-risk category does…but we have even more! Best of all…these side effects are very dangerous!
So – what kind of symptoms could you experience if you’re a high-risk patient like me?
For high-risk patients, flu symptoms can trigger pneumonia or a blood infection, it can cause diarrhea (which causes dehydration…which causes you to feel even worse) seizures, &…death. Yes, death! A high-risk patient can catch the flu, get an infection, & die…because of the flu.
For those of you thinking thank god I’m not in that category: great!!! I am happy for you, of course. Health isn’t to be taken for granted. But…but! That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get your flu vaccine. There’s less fear for those who are low-risk, because getting the flu wouldn’t be that big a deal. There’s a lot of fear for those who are high-risk, because I know that even if I get my flu vaccine, I’m still in greater danger of catching the flu than the average Joe – that’s because the flu has a lot of strains, & the vaccine might not cover them all. The average Joe would be able to shake off an unexpectedly severe case of the flu; I, however, wouldn’t. So – if a healthy person hasn’t gotten their flu vaccine, they can still be a carrier, even if they themselves don’t have many (or any!) symptoms. That means that I & many others are still at risk for catching the flu.
Last year, I got my flu shot at my specialist’s clinic – like I said, the flu vaccine is an absolute must for me – no “ifs” here! Still, I got a really bad throat infection, had to come home from university for a few days, & was on steroids for 10 days. I’d gotten my flu shot & taken all precautions – but was still in the ER. This was probably due to catching something laying around…most likely in a public bathroom/classroom.
This brings me to my next point: what (aside from getting the vaccine) can we do to keep healthy this upcoming flu season? The flu is an airborne virus, so it’s pretty easy to catch (remember: 3 million people per year get a case). These are some great tips that should be followed by high & low-risk patients alike:
- Wash your hands. Wash. Your. Hands.
- I cannot tell you how many times I see people using a public restroom & then just leaving without washing their hands. That’s…not okay at all! There’s no excuse to not wash your hands. The soap is there, the sink is there, & the paper towels are there, too. Please use them.
- Use hand sanitizer.
- Hand sanitizer isn’t as good as washing your hands, but it’s a good on-the-go way to keep clean. I don’t use any particular one – just whichever is in the drugstore checkout line.
- Try to avoid hanging around people you know have the flu.
- Let’s face it – it’s plain stupid to hang out with someone you already know has the flu. Healthy people, please don’t do it! Sick (chronically ill) people: don’t feel like a bad person for not being able to bring a friend or S/O food or drink. You’re protecting your health, & if a friend or S/O gets mad about you saying you can’t come over until they’re better…they’re not a good friend or S/O.
If you still feel like your immune system is invincible, take some time to read this:
Basically, by getting the flu shot, you’ll be saving yourself a lot of potential grief. You’ll be saving yourself from getting the flu. You’ll be able to have one less thing to stress about during an already stressful time of year, & you will be helping prevent actual death among the smaller part of the population who are at greater risk for catching the flu – catching more dangerous strains of it, no less.
Okay…what’s the grief you’ll be saving…other than avoiding the flu? Well, like I mentioned, even those at low-risk can still get a bad case of the flu. This can sometimes (not always) warrant a hospitalization, if the flu you happen to catch carries extra risk of pneumonia/other complications. If you get the vaccine, you’re already taking a big step to save your money for something other than potential hospital bills. Hospitals are expensive. Trust me! Please do. In the hospital, you’ll be charged for anything from a bag of saline solution to a few shots of IV medications to a bedside doctor’s visit. Then, you may be sent home with prescriptions to keep your flu under control. All these things cost money – no matter your healthcare situation (co-pays can be expensive, too).
Now that we have that covered, why does one need a flu vaccine every year, & why don’t we get the flu from the vaccine itself?
Like I mentioned several times, the influenza virus morphs; it’s a shape-shifter, if you will. It figures out ways to become stronger in different ways so that it will continue to thrive. So – last year’s flu shot is invalid, because there are different strains being added to the flu vaccine every single year. The flu this year will be different from last year’s; you still may get the same symptoms, but it’s delivered in a different way – again, this is why we need one every single year.
As for catching the flu from the vaccine, there’s almost (I’m speaking “scientifically” because there’s no always; this, however comes pretty close) zero chance that that will happen. The flu vaccine doesn’t contain a live virus; because of that, it can’t give you the flu. There used to (& perhaps still is…I don’t know because I never had that option) be a nasal “injection” that acted the same way a flu shot did…at least, it was supposed to. The CDC no longer recommends getting the nasal method of vaccination, because it contains a live virus. This increases chance of feeling quite sick afterwards, & yes – even catching the flu from it.
No, you will not get autism from the flu vaccine – or any other vaccine, for that matter. To say otherwise is uninformed & insulting to those with autism!!!
Check out this great page “Key Facts About Seasonal Flu” on the CDC’s site – it answers a lot more questions than I did, & does in a more eloquent manner.
So – here’s your push. I hope that if you haven’t gotten your flu shot yet, this little post convinced you to do so. Remember – you’re saving yourself money, maintaining your own health, & helping protect the health of those around you with compromised immune systems. Like I said: win/win/win. Stay safe, wash your hands, get your vaccines, & be careful around those with supressed immunity if you do end up getting the flu. Here are some more ways the flu can be spread:
- By airborne respiratory droplets (coughs or sneezes).
- By skin-to-skin contact (handshakes or hugs).
- By saliva (kissing or shared drinks).
- By touching a contaminated surface (blanket or doorknob).
Alright…NOW you can go do it! Go go go!