Screen Shot 2013-01-08 at 12.45.43 PMInfluenza virus causes “the flu.” It’s a crummy cold that spreads easily causing high fever, body aches, runny nose, terrible cough, and rarely it can cause vomiting and diarrhea, too. The flu isn’t the “stomach flu.” It’s deadlier than that. It’s more dangerous for babies and young children, and for the elderly. It’s also particularly dangerous for those with asthma, diabetes, and people with neurologic or immune problems. This post is a bit of a plea: people are dying from the flu and there are ways we can potentially save others’ lives. Click through to read 5 myths about the flu and watch a 3-min interview I did for HLN television yesterday.

The bad news: We’re having a bad flu season. More people have the flu this year than at any time last year. This is early—flu usually peaks in Feb or March. The most dominate strain of flu that’s moving around the US is the strain called H3N2—it’s known to cause more serious disease. As of today, we have over 80% of our states reporting widespread circulating levels of flu. Here in Washington many people have been hospitalized from complications of the flu. Further, in Washington 6 people have died, one of them a child under the age of 12. A healthy 17 year-old died in Minnesota just this week. Flu is not just your “common cold,” it can be far worse. Eighteen children have already died this season. As of November, we didn’t even have 1/2 of our population with a flu shot. The goal to protect us all is 90%.

I’ve never had a family in clinic get influenza illness and then refuse the flu shot the following year.  They come in early and often for their shots. It’s that bad of an illness.

The good news: We have a vaccine for the virus that causes the flu. The flu shot and flumist nasal spray are effective and that H3N2 strain that we’re worried about, it’s in the flu shot and the nasal flu spray this year. It’s not too late to get a flu shot. You’ll be protected against the flu somewhere from 10 day to 14 days after getting it. Go out now and protect yourself and your family. By getting a shot you protect yourself, your children, and all those more vulnerable in our community unable to get the shot (those infants under 6 mo of age, those on chemo, or those with contraindications to the shot).

Debunking Five Myths About The Flu

  • The flu shot doesn’t cause the flu. The shot is an entirely dead virus—it’s impossible for it to replicate in your body and cause infection. The nasal spray is a very weakened strain (imagine a sprinter without legs or a bumble bee without wings) that is unable to replicate in the lungs to cause disease. The most common side effects after the shot and/or the nasal spray is fatigue, lowgrade fever, and runny nose (from the nasal spray). 
  • You may feel like you “don’t get the flu.” Well, chances are that you do or you might. Research shows that anywhere from 5% to 20% of all adults get influenza every year. Anywhere from 10% to 40% of all children get it annually as well. Sometimes it’s just a mild infection, sometimes it’s far worse. You may not know you’ve had it unless a clinician tests you.
  • The flu shot doesn’t work. It does work but like every shot, it’s imperfect. It is possible for someone to still get the flu after a flu shot, but the infection is far less severe when they have had the shot. You need a flu shot every year because the influenza virus mutates while moving around the globe. For more on why you need one every year, watch this 1 1/2 minute video.
  • I’m healthy so I don’t need a flu shot. We’re lucky that we’re healthy, but don’t let that fool you. Healthy children and adults die from the flu every year. Often about 1/2 of the children that die from influenza (usually a couple hundred each season) are healthy infants and children. About 30,000 people die every year from flu in the US. The flu shot you get now can help protect you.
  • If you don’t “do” flu shots but you now have a child, you must change. Your children, particularly those under age 4 years, and those infants too young to get a shot (under age 6 months) are utterly dependent on you getting a flu shot so you don’t bring influenza home to them. Check out the flu finder widget (above) if you want to find a pharmacy or clinic that will give you the flu shot today.