Flu, or influenza, is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalizations, severe health complications and even death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu-related deaths during a given season can number as high as 49,000.
Also, flu has a significant impact on the economy. A new study from Health Affairs reports that flu costs in the United States last year for adults reached $5.8 billion in medical visits, medication and lost productivity.
So what can you do? The best way to reduce your chances of getting the flu is to get a flu shot.
According to the CDC, everyone who is at least six months old should get a flu vaccine. Getting vaccinated is especially important for people who have certain medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or chronic lung disease; and for pregnant women, young children and people 65 and older.
Influenza does not discriminate against age or health habits. Just because you’re young or don’t typically get sick doesn’t mean you can’t catch the flu. Since a person can be contagious before symptoms develop, you can catch the flu from someone who has yet to show any signs of being sick.
The flu usually comes on suddenly. Common symptoms include constant cough, sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches and fatigue.
To help protect yourself and others from the flu, consider these five tips:
• Get a flu shot (most important);
• Wash your hands to reduce the spread of germs;
• Stay away from people who are sick;
• If you’re sick, stay home to prevent spreading flu to others; and
• Cover coughs and sneezes
The flu shot is not expensive. In most cases, the cost of a flu shot is covered by your health plan, whether you buy health insurance on your own or are covered through your employer, Medicare or Medicaid.
Many employers offer free onsite flu shot clinics at work. You can also visit your primary care doctor or nearby wellness clinic, convenience clinic, most retail pharmacies or contracted flu shot providers.
Please do not go to an emergency room for a flu shot. Emergency rooms should be used for medical emergencies. Receiving a flu shot in the ER will come with longer wait times and higher out-of-pocket costs.
To find a list of flu shot providers near you, visit cdc.gov/flu and enter your zip code. Most don't require appointments for flu shots.
Because it takes about two weeks for the vaccination to take full effect and provide the greatest protection, the CDC recommends getting a flu shot in the fall, if possible.
Flu season can run through May with a peak time between December and March, so now is the time to make your and your family’s health a priority and get a flu shot.
Dr. Neil Galinko is senior medical director with UnitedHealthcare of