Why Getting the Flu Vaccine Is Even More Important This Year

Why Getting the Flu Vaccine Is Even More Important This Year

It’s that time of year again … flu season is just around the corner, and we need to get ready for it.

While Australia and other countries in the Southern Hemisphere had an exceptionally mild flu season this year, we can’t assume that it will be the same here. Public health officials in those countries took flu very seriously this year. They encouraged more flu vaccination and strict mask wearing and physical distancing for COVID. We can’t count on that to be the case for us.

In fact, this year, getting your flu vaccine is more important than ever. As COVID-19 continues to threaten our health, anything we can do to lessen the chance of adding another infection into the mix is critical.

 

7 Things to Clean This Cold and Flu Season

 

Germy Faucet Handles

Dirty hands are always touching kitchen and bathroom faucet handles -- and cold and flu viruses may hitch a ride. Plus, those areas are hotspots for yeast, mold, and bacteria like salmonella and E. coli. Wipe down faucet handles daily with disinfectant spray or wipes.

 

Tainted Toothbrush Holders

One study found these can be one of the germiest spots in your home. As a general rule, put them in the dishwasher or hand-wash them with hot, soapy water once or twice a week. And if someone in your house is sick, keep their toothbrush separate from everyone else’s. If you touch something with cold or flu germs and then touch your mouth, nose, or eyes, you could be next.

 

Grimy Plastic Toys

Kids can get up to eight colds a year, and those germs can easily spread to their stuff. Clean toys at the end of each month and when they might be dirtier than usual (like after your kid is sick). You can kill many bacteria and viruses on hard plastic toys by washing them with soap and warm water. To really sanitize them, wipe them down with a mix of 1 tablespoon of bleach in 1 quart of water, then let them air dry.

 

Teeming Touch Screens

That smartphone or tablet you’re always swiping and tapping? Viruses can easily transfer from the glass of the screen to your fingertips, So it’s smart to clean your devices, especially during cold and flu season. You can buy special wipes or check the instructions for the best way to clean the screen. There are also devices that use UV light to disinfect your gadgets.

 

Tainted TV Remotes

Does cleaning the clicker make it onto your chore list? Chances are it’s one of the most touched and least cleaned items in your house. Plus, cold and flu germs tend to live longest on plastic and other hard surfaces. To clean it, first clear out debris with a dry toothbrush. Then use a cotton swab or cotton ball dipped in mild cleaner (and squeezed nearly dry) to disinfect. You can use the same method on computer keyboards.

 

Dirty Desks

Offices can harbor many kinds of germs. People pick them up at home, on the bus, or dropping kids off at school, then bring them to work. It can’t hurt to wipe down your workspace regularly, especially when colds and the flu are going around. Those viruses can live on hard surfaces up to 8 hours. That’s a full workday.

 

Seriously, Wash Your Hands

Even if you clean everything around you, washing your hands is still one of the surest ways you can lower your chances of getting a cold or the flu. But you have to do it right: Rub your hands together with soap for at least 20 seconds before you rinse -- don't forget the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails. When you can’t get to a sink, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

We know that wearing masks, washing hands, and sanitizing surfaces help protect us from both coronavirus and the flu. But for the flu, we already have a vaccine in our arsenal. Though it’s not perfect, the flu vaccine prevents millions of infections and doctor’s visits every year. Data from the 2018-2019 flu season showed that it prevented over 50,000 hospitalizations and more than 3,000 deaths. This kind of protection is especially important for those of us most at risk for complications from the flu, including pregnant women, infants and young children, the elderly, and those with long-term medical conditions.

Here are a few things to know about the flu vaccine as we head into the season:

Getting the vaccine could keep you out of the hospital

I sometimes hear people say, “If I might still get the flu anyway, why even bother getting vaccinated?” Yes, you might still get the flu, but if you’ve been vaccinated, your risk of serious complications decreases significantly. And at a time when we’re at risk of running out of hospital and ICU beds, preventing flu-related hospitalization is key. Some studies have found a 75% decreased risk of intensive care admissions for children and about a 40% decrease in hospitalization for older adults after flu vaccination.

That’s why, with very rare exceptions, the flu vaccine is recommended for EVERYONE over 6 months old.

Side effects are just side effects, not the flu itself

Like any medical treatment, there can be side effects from the flu vaccines. The good news is that the most common side effects of the flu vaccine are mild and go away on their own in a few days. Some people will have soreness where they got the shot, mild fever, muscle aches, and headaches. These effects are not an allergy and are NOT the flu. It’s just your immune response ramping up after the vaccine.

My kids and I experience these effects every year after the flu shot, so we’ve started to time our shots for Friday so that we have time to rest over the weekend.

Timing matters, but it isn’t everything

As you’re considering when to get your flu vaccine, it’s important to remember that it takes about 2 weeks after you get the vaccine to develop a protective antibody response. Some people feel that it’s best to get it right when the flu shot become available (August). Others suggest waiting so the antibody protection lasts later into the season, and this is especially true for older adults, where studies have shown reduced protection from the flu as the season wears on.

The CDC recommends getting the shot in early fall (September, end of October at the latest), but people who miss this timeframe should still get the vaccine, even through January (sometimes even later than that depending on how bad a particular flu season is.)

Children who are between 6 months and 8 years old and who have NEVER gotten the flu vaccine before need two doses at least 4 weeks apart. If your child falls into this category, you may want to start the process earlier so they can get their second shot and be fully protected by October.

If you’re afraid of needles, it comes in a spray too

Along with flu shots, the nasal spray vaccine is approved again for this season. The nasal spray vaccine can be given to people between 2 and 49 who aren’t pregnant. People with certain medical conditions like asthma and weakened immune systems shouldn’t get the nasal spray version. There are also specially dosed flu shots for adults over 65 and even flu shots for people who have egg allergies.

When it comes to what type of vaccine to get, the CDC doesn’t recommend one over another, so it’s best to talk to your doctor to choose the one that works best for you and your family.

Getting a flu vaccine is crucial this season, so if you don’t usually get a flu shot, now’s a good time to start. And if flu vaccination is a normal annual practice for you, you can feel good knowing that your healthy choice has even more value this year.

 

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