The peak of flu season is just around the corner, and as a doctor I want you to know what you can do now to avoid getting sick later.  Despite warnings that influenza can cause serious illness or death, particularly in the very young or very old, fewer than 50 percent of U.S. patients receive the vaccine each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While most people associate “flu” with 2-4 days of stomach upset, vomiting or diarrhea, Influenza is a severe viral respiratory condition characterized by high fevers, body aches, cough, a 10-14 day course of illness.  It can progress to severe pneumonia or meningitis–Influenza is not the benign condition many people believe it to be.

Dr. Ryan Christensen, an osteopathic family physician at Osteopathic Health Care Associates  notes that patients who get an annual flu shot are far less likely to require hospitalization or other medical care.

Dr. Christensen weighs in on some of the common issues that everyone should know regarding flu vaccination:

  • First and most importantly, getting the flu shot can save your life. Each year as many as 200,000 people are hospitalized with severe complications of the flu including, bacterial pneumonia, dehydration, and ear or sinus infections. If you already have a chronic condition, your risk of influenza complications is increased. Examples of chronic conditions include asthma, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, cystic fibrosis, liver or kidney disease, COPD, and obesity. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) 80,000 people in the United States died from the flu last year.

  • You can help keep you family, friends and co-workers from getting the flu. The flu is spread easily and can be transmitted by coughing, sneezing or even by talking. The flu can also be spread by touching a surface with the flu germ and then touching your face. Getting the flu shot is important to protect yourself, your loved ones and the community at large. Flu shots are covered by most insurances and are available at doctors’ offices and pharmacies.

  • Less sick days! No one wants to stay home from work using up their sick days. Missing work can cost both you and your employee financially. reports that the flu is responsible for approximately $7 billion in lost wages and productivity, and as many as 100 million lost workdays.

  • Side effects are rare. The flu vaccine is safe, Dr. Christensen stresses. While most people experience no side effects at all, others may describe short term minor discomforts such as a sore arm at the injection site, headache, stuffy nose or a sore throat. Those with certain allergies or Guillian-Barre syndrome should avoid the flu shot.

  • Afraid of shots? Good News! There are needle free options available for healthy individuals between 2 and 49 in the form of a nasal spray or an intradermal shot that has a smaller needle. Nasal Spray is not recommended for anyone with asthma, pregnant or with weakened immune systems.

  • It’s easy to know if you should get a flu shot. The CDC and Dr. Christensen recommend that everyone over 6 months of age should be vaccinated for influenza.

  • Over 65? For those over 65 the risks of complications and death are higher, however, there is a special version of the flu shot that provides more protection to that age group.

  • Flu shots don’t cause the flu! The flu shot uses a deadened form of the virus making it impossible to get the flu from a shot. This is probably the most common thing that I’m told by patients, and each time it’s an opportunity for me to explain that by introducing viral particles in your body vaccination triggers your immune system to make antibodies. These antibodies and the little ‘under the weather’ feeling common after vaccines is actually a GOOD sign as it means your immune system is working.

  • The strains of flu change & you should be vaccinated yearly. Each year the CDC determines which strains of the flu are most likely to be prevalent. The flu shot you had last season may not protect you from the new strains.

  • Don’t Wait! The flu season begins in October and can last throughout may and into early spring. Because it takes up to two weeks for your immune system to create the antibodies the shot provides, it’s important to get the shot as early as possible.

If you have any questions regarding the flu shot, contact your medical provider. Dr. Christensen is happy to answer your questions and help you make the right decisions when it comes to your health. Focusing on preventative care, DOs or Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine, look beyond your symptoms to consider how environmental and lifestyle factors impact your health.  They are trained to listen and partner with you to help you not only get healthy, but stay well. Dr. Christensen is now accepting new patients at Osteopathic Health Care Associates in Utica.