It had been a long time since I’d been around someone with the actual flu, but over the New Year’s holiday two of my friends came down with the virus.
Now I can clearly see I hadn’t given the flu enough respect.
One friend is a working mom with two children under the age of 8. The other is a working single 50-something woman with two pets. The working mom got the flu shot; the single gal did not.
Both of them were very sick, and even though they went to urgent care and were prescribed Tamiflu (or its generic version), both were down for the count for a good seven days and neither could complete a full day of work on their first day back.
It reminded me how glad I am that I get my flu shot each year and how lucky I was not to have caught the flu from them.
I accompanied one of my friends to her urgent care visit as she was unable to drive. The nurse told me that up until mid- December the number of flu cases locally was low, but they’d seen a significant increase recently.
The first pharmacy we visited to fill the Tamiflu prescription was out of both the brand name and the generic equivalent: Too many people had recently come in with a prescription. Tamiflu, according to its website, attacks the flu virus and may help reduce the time adults are sick by 1.3 days (30 percent). It also may prevent the flu in people 1 year and older.
My friends having the flu may not be much of a story, but the real story lies in the decline in the number of older adults getting the flu shot in recent years.
According to the Centers for Disease Control, the 2015 vaccination rate for all Americans was 46 percent, down 1.5 percent from the prior year. The greatest drop was among adults age 50 and older (so maybe age doesn’t always equate to wisdom).
It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies that protect against influenza virus infection to develop in the body, so it’s best to get vaccinated as soon as the flu shot is available. But getting the vaccine later can still be helpful.
“Flu season most often peaks between December and March, but activity can occur as late as May,” said Dr. Dan Jernigan, director of the influenza division at CDC. “We are encouraging people who have not yet been vaccinated this season to get vaccinated now.”
Symptoms of the flu include a fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, fatigue, nausea and miserable days spent in bed. According to the CDC, millions of people get sick, hundreds of thousands are hospitalized and thousands to tens of thousands of people die from flu each year.
People 65 years and older and people who have medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease are among those to whom the flu poses the most serious health risks.
In particular, people 65 years and up bear the greatest burden of severe flu disease. In recent years, for example, according to the CDC, it’s estimated that between 71 and 85 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths have occurred in people 65 years and older, and between 54 and 70 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations have occurred among people in that age group. So influenza is often quite serious for people 65 and older.
Note: If you are allergic to eggs, the flu shot may not be right for you, as the virus is cultivated inside chicken eggs. Talk to your doctor.
For more information about the toll the flu can take, talk to your doctor or other healthcare professional, visit www.cdc.gov/flu or call the CDC at (800) 232-4636.