To avoid weeks of illness, missed work and just feeling terrible with the possibility of death, doctors recommend people get their flu shot.
When doctors talk about the flu, they are talking about influenza, not what people refer to as the stomach flu, said Dr. Christopher Bell with the Family Medical Center in Little Falls.
There is no effective treatment for influenza and it can make people sick, land them in the hospital and possibly even kill them, he said.
The best way to protect against influenza is through the vaccination, which injects a protein from the virus into the patient so the body’s immune system can fight the real thing, Bell said.
“This is really one of our only defenses against getting the flu,” he said.
Some people may believe that they do not need the flu shot because enough people get the shot so the virus won’t spread to them, Bell said.
There is a problem with this theory however, he said.
“As more and more people believe in that there are less and less people being vaccinated so there is more risk of being exposed,” Bell said.
People cannot rely on the idea of herd immunity to protect them from the flu, he said.
There are some people however, who cannot get the vaccine for reasons such as being allergic to it, Bell said.
For those people, not being exposed to the disease while in the community is the only way to be safe, Bell said.
Bell wants people to know that getting the flu vaccination is completely safe. While people may get flu-like symptoms for a day or so after the shot, it is very uncommon and studies show in many cases people got a different bug at about the same time.
“It isn’t worth the risk of not getting it,” Bell said.
Even if the influenza does not land a person in the hospital or worse, they will be out of work or school for weeks, he said.
“You get high fevers, you feel like a truck hit you and you hurt all over,” Bell said.
Using a medication like Tamiflu may only cut the time with influenza by one or two days, Bell said.
As for rumors of shortages of the vaccine, Bell could not speak to whether there is an issue across the country, but when the Family Medical Center ran out of vaccines, another shipment was brought in and there is enough available currently.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projects vaccine manufacturers will produce between 162 and 169 million doses for the 2019-2020 season.
Because there are many different strains of influenza and the disease mutates, Bell warned it is important to get a vaccine every year.
When manufacturers create a vaccine, they look at what happened the previous year and try to pick what is projected to be the worst strain for the upcoming season, Bell said.
The vaccinations are available at providers like the Family Medical Center, along with pharmacies across the area.
More information about influenza is available at www.cdc.gov/flu.