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March 14, 2017

By John Jason Sutton, MD

This flu season has been a rough one in some parts of the country, and it seems to be getting worse. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC ) reports that 10 states are experiencing high levels of flu activity. In California, twice as many outbreaks are being reported this season versus last year. Fourteen people under the age of 65, including a child, have died as a result of the flu in that state this season, versus three fatalities reported during the same time period last season.

In Texas, the CDC reported that influenza activity has been on the rise since January 8, indicating we may be heading into the peak of the season, which runs from October through May.

I spend a lot of time in the hospital every year; the flu accounts for around 200,000 hospitalizations per year and up to 49,000 deaths per year depending on the strain of flu.

The CDC and other population health organizations recommend that people get vaccinated every year. Vaccination is the easiest and most effective thing you can do to protect yourself from the flu virus. Yet many people still don’t take the time to get a simple shot.

There are a lot of people who believe that they shouldn’t be, or don’t need to be, vaccinated. Here are some common myths about the flu:

Myth: I had the flu last year, or I was vaccinated last year, so I don’t need to get a shot this year.

Fact: The flu changes every year and the vaccine is updated to keep up with all the changes. It’s important, and more effective, to get vaccinated every year rather than isolated years.

Myth: The flu vaccine could give me the flu.

Fact: Sometimes patients aren’t vaccinated soon enough and they contract the flu anyway. They can also catch another virus the vaccine was not made to protect against. But the vaccine itself does not have the live virus, so you can’t catch the flu from the shot.

Myth: Pregnant women should not be vaccinated.

Fact: These patients are the most important group of people when it comes to receiving the vaccine because they can have the most severe reactions to the flu.

Myth: High-risk patients (chronic medical conditions, children, and seniors) should not receive the flu vaccine.

Fact: There’s actually a high-dose vaccine specifically for this group to give their immune system the extra boost they need. It is recommended that everyone six (6) months and older get the flu vaccine.

So what should you do if someone in your family starts to get the flu? Be on the lookout for fevers, body aches, sore throats and runny noses. The sooner that you notice any of these symptoms, the quicker you should contact your doctor.

Medications used to treat the flu are best when given as early as possible, within 24 – 48 hours. Even if you have just come into contact with someone who has the flu, and you aren’t feeling any symptoms, it’s important that you reach out to your doctor.

John Jason Sutton, MD, earned his medical degree from the University of Texas Medical School at Houston in Houston, Texas. He completed a categorical internal medicine residency at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, TX. He is board certified in internal medicine. Dr. Sutton has been a hospitalist with WellMed for over 5 years.

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