It seems like with each new day this year there are more headlines about flu outbreak. In fact, just the other day a school in northern Idaho was shut down because the flu outbreak among students was so bad.
I’ll be honest, I have always been partially skeptical about getting a flu shot, mainly because for many years I did not get one and never got sick during the winter months. Go ahead, you can shake your head at me disapprovingly for being both stubborn and lazy.
It was not until speaking with my health and wellness friend that I realized just how stupid I was for not getting a flu shot each year as soon as they become available. My friend recently made some healthy changes in his life, started a Kyani business, lost a bunch of weight and started advocating for all of his friends to live a healthier life this year.
Part of living that healthier life, to him, included getting a flu shot each year. He explained to me that during the coldest months of the year, more people are staying inside rather than going outside. As more and more people stay crowded together inside, the likelihood of spreading germs increases more than I could have imagined.
Many people will argue, as I used to, that getting a flu shot really only matters in the early months of winter – November, and December. The truth about the flu, though, is that the peak of flu season lasts through February and has been known to last clear through May in colder parts of the country. If that is the case, deciding to get the flu shot now will protect you for the next 4 months of flu season, depending on where you live. On top of that, getting the shot sooner than later is advised seeing that it can take upwards of two weeks for the full immunity of the shot to become effective.
On a side note, there is a lot of vagueness regarding what makes the flu vaccine effective. The biggest reason for getting the shot is due to the fact that the flu itself is a virus that is unstable, meaning it kind of evolves from flu season to flu season. It has also been known to change a lot during each flu season. This means that if you got a flu shot last year, the immunity you pulled from that shot will not be effective this year because the flu virus is completely different.
Interestingly enough, the flu vaccine offered to us each flu season is formulated by scientists during the summer. They create the vaccine based on common symptoms and side effects of the flu seen in Australia, seeing that their flu seasons comes before ours. Their annual research into the flu signifies that each flu vaccine offered to us is specifically targeted to the flu that is likely to come our way.
For the 2017-2018 flu season, the vaccine we are offered specifically targets strains of the B/Victoria lineage, the H1N1 and H3N2 strains. Depending on your location, some vaccines also offer protection against the B/Yamagata strain.
The strain that is currently dominating the news is the H3N2 strain. Unfortunately, vaccines do not work as well on this strain as others due to the strain’s capability to mutate much more than other strains. Because of its ability to mutate, this strain poses a greater risk for more serious illness and infection. Even with the capability to mutate, the flu vaccine will still do much more in reducing your risk of catching the flu than if you had no vaccine at all.
It is important to note that even if you have received a vaccine, you can still get the flu. The whole point of the vaccine, according to my health friend, is simply to greatly reduce your risk. Flu vaccines do not eliminate your risk.
While this news may be slightly discouraging, studies show that getting the vaccine makes a very big difference. In 2010, studies indicated that for those that received the flu vaccine, only 1.2 percent of that group contracted the flu. Of the group that did not receive the vaccine, 3.9 percent of people contracted the flu. Honestly, those are very small percentages, at least until you consider the size of a large city. Take New York City for example. As of 2016, the population there was 8.5 million. If everyone received a flu vaccine in the big apple, roughly 102,000 people (1.2%) would get the flu. If nobody got the vaccination, that number escalates to 331,500 people (3.9%). This is an increase of 3.25 times the amount of people.
Finally, it goes without saying that getting the flu vaccine is not the only thing you should be doing to prevent contracting the flu. Practicing great hygiene and being physically active makes a large difference as well. With that, go grab your flu shot from your local pharmacist and enjoy the rest of this flu season. If I can do it, I know you can too.