The Flu: A Formidable Foe
As viruses go, the influenza virus, commonly known as “the flu”, is especially devious. It can invade your body undetected, mask itself from the immune system, and lay dormant for hours until symptoms begin, which often include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, headache, fatigue, vomiting, and diarrhea. Millions of Americans are infected each year – as much as 11% of the U.S. population – and the virus is readily spread to others, especially older adults with chronic conditions and the immuno-compromised.
As we approach fall and winter, and the weather begins to (finally) cool down, the chance of catching the flu heats up. Colder temperatures not only affect human behavior – inducing more people to group together indoors – but also reduce the innate immune response in your nose, making you more susceptible to respiratory infections like the flu, according to a recent study published in the The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology.
The Flu: Know Your Enemy
- Serious Symptoms: Getting the flu can be a serious setback that can lead to sickness, hospitalization, and even death. Symptoms often include a fever of 102 degrees or more, chills, sweats, cough, chest pain, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, loss of appetite, headache, fatigue, vomiting and/or diarrhea.
- Spreads Easily: People with the flu produce infectious, tiny droplets that stay suspended in the air. By simply breathing, not to mention sneezing and coughing, a sick person is spreading the flu to loved ones and others in close range.
- It Lingers: The flu virus has a 48-hour life span on hard, nonporous surfaces and a 12-hour life span on surfaces like clothes and tissues. Your best defense: sanitize all surfaces that have come in contact with infected persons.
- Protect Your Parents: Unvaccinated individuals 65 and older with chronic conditions are at a greater risk of flu complications. The virus weakens the body in ways that make heart attacks and strokes more common, especially among the elderly. In fact, those with conditions like congestive heart failure may have up to a six-time higher risk of having a heart attack within a week of a confirmed flu infection.
- Pets in Pain: Your pets can catch their own strain of the flu that is species-specific. Although there’s no chance of infection between you and your furry friend, your pet may have symptoms similar to humans – sneezing, coughing, and fatigue – so be on alert during flu season.
Ready to Get Your Flu Shot?
Many drugstores, hospitals, and doctor’s offices now offer the vaccine. Blue KC members can find an in-network flu shot provider by logging in to MyBlueKC.com then selecting “Find Care” from the menu.
The Flu: Myths vs. Facts
When it comes to the flu, certain myths seem to persist over time. So, what’s fact and what’s fiction? Let’s look at some of the most common myths related to the flu and get to the truth of the matter.
MYTH: The flu is the same thing as a cold.
FACT: While both are contagious and have certain similar symptoms, colds tend to be mild. The flu usually develops suddenly and lasts 2 to 3 days. The flu can be dangerous, especially to older and susceptible populations.
MYTH: You can’t die from the flu.
FACT: People who have severe cases of the flu or are part of high-risk populations can die from the flu, which makes it even more important that they receive an annual flu vaccine. These individuals include:
- Babies or children up to 4 years old.
- Anyone 65 years of age or older.
- Women who are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding.
- Anyone who lives in in a long-term care center, such as a nursing home.
The flu is also particularly dangerous to people who have other underlying health conditions, including:
- Anyone who has a low or weakened immune system.
- Anyone who has a chronic health condition.
MYTH: The flu vaccine will give you the flu.
FACT: You cannot get the flu from a flu shot. The vaccine is made up of dead viruses that can’t infect you, but merely help your body identify and fight the live virus, should it show up. That’s not to say you can’t have side effects that mimic flu-like symptoms. The injection site could become red, sore, or swollen. You also may have muscle aches, headaches, or a low fever for a short period of time. These effects occur as the body adapts and prepares to fight the virus when it’s time.
MYTH: You don’t need to get the flu vaccine if you’re healthy.
FACT: While being healthy is certainly a good thing, unfortunately it may not prevent the flu.
MYTH: You don’t need to get the flu vaccine every year.
FACT: The flu is caused by the influenza virus, which can change from year to year. Because of this, the flu vaccine is updated to protect against the main types of flu.
Hopefully we’ve laid out the case that the flu is a formidable, and potentially dangerous virus. So how do we fight back to protect ourselves and our loved ones? Don’t despair, science has you covered.
The Power of the Flu Vaccine
Vaccination against influenza decreases the chance of infection, lessens the severity of infection, and can reduce the chance of hospitalization, especially for elderly Americans or individuals with chronic heart conditions or lung disease. But just because you’re young and healthy doesn’t make you exempt. Everyone is susceptible to the flu, and catching the virus could put you out of commission for weeks. In fact, except for rare cases, the CDC states that everyone over the age of 6 months should get the annual flu vaccine.
5 BIG Reason to get your yearly Flu Shot:
- It can save your life (or a family member’s life).
- It’s free. Most Blue KC members pay $0 for their flu shot.
- Hate needles? No problem. Ask your doctor about the nasal spray version.
- Side effects are mild, and many people experience zero side effects.
- You can get a yearly upgrade. The vaccine is updated each year based on the current virus strains.
When Should I Get It?
The duration of flu season can vary, but infections often begin to increase in September and last as late as May, with the heaviest parts of flu season occurring between December and February. The best bet for maximum protection against severe illness is to receive the flu vaccine every year near the beginning of the flu season.
Where to Get the Flu Vaccine
When it comes to the flu, don’t risk it. Get the flu vaccine! Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Kansas City (Blue KC) health plans cover 100% of the cost of the flu vaccine when it’s administered by an in-network provider, such as your primary care provider (PCP) or a retail health clinic. You don’t have to look far. Many drugstores, hospitals, and doctor’s offices now offer the vaccine. Blue KC members can find an in-network flu shot provider by logging in to MyBlueKC.com then selecting “Find Care” from the menu.
Protect yourself. Protect your loved ones. Protect each other. Make an appointment to get your flu shot today.