Every year we hear a non-stop chorus of statistics on this year’s flu shot and its effectiveness. Advertisements for the flu vaccine in our physician’s offices, pharmacies and urgent care centers are common. Almost every doctor asks, “have you received your flu shot yet”?  Should seniors really get the flu shot? Does a senior really need the vaccine every year? Some years the flu shot is ineffective? Are there really no side effects? Lets try to answer some of these questions.

What do the numbers say?

Unfortunately, the flu is a very common affliction. Between 5% and 20% of the U.S. population will get the flu each year. Exact numbers depend on the strain and longevity of the virus. Most people afflicted with the flu will recover in 3-7 days. Doesn’t sound so bad. Almost like a common cold, in some cases. Let’s look a bit further into the numbers and what they mean for seniors.

As a result of the flu, two hundred thousand people will be hospitalized each year. Of those, 35,000 people will die. That is a scary number. Almost 15% of hospitalizations from the flu result in death. The most likely to be hospitalized from flu complications are seniors, who account for 60% of hospitalizations. That’s 92,000 people each year. Flu complications come in different forms: ear infections, dehydration and sinus infections are some of the milder complications. Bacterial pneumonia, nervous system problems, and heart attacks are the more serious. The flu also adversely effects long term conditions like asthma and diabetes. Since seniors are most likely to have a preexisting long-term condition and already have a weakened immune system, they are most susceptible to the more serious complications, leading to an estimated 85% of all flu related deaths.

How do I protect myself?

The answer is very simple. Get the flu shot. By getting the flu shot each year, a senior’s chances of serious complications are significantly decreased. While the flu shot’s effectiveness is not perfect every season, it will almost always decrease the longevity of the virus in the body and reduce the risk of complications. Are you a statistician like me and want to know by how much, exactly? The numbers vary year to year, but overall the chances of a senior with a flu shot being hospitalized goes down by 70% – and the chance of dying by 85%. The numbers are pretty significant and speak for themselves. By getting the flu shot, you also get to be an extra great neighbor and citizen by reducing the spread of the virus to others. In zones where a large majority of people get the flu shot, the seasonal flu infection rate is significantly decreased (I don’t have time to look up the statistics for this one – just trust me).

Is the flu shot safe?

Although the fear of catching the flu from the vaccination is common, it is impossible to get sick with the flu from a flu shot. The vaccination contains a dead virus, which stimulates your immune system to produce antibodies, but cannot cause the disease. There are side effects experienced by 5-10% of people, but they are mild and usually consist of mild fatigue and body aches. Since the virus tends to be different each year, it’s very important to get a new vaccination yearly. The CDC does its best to predict the strain each year and without a yearly vaccination you will not be protected.

Always speak with your doctor before getting any vaccinations. And after you do, go get the flu shot!

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