It's that time of year again when germs are being swapped in both kisses and casual handshakes, picked up on doorknobs and elevator buttons, and making their way into our bodies from sneezes, runny noses, and coughs.
It's inevitable. And chances are this season you'll catch a cold at least once. Sure, it's not fun, but the seasonal flu is much more serious - even deadly - and it's what you should be thinking about now.
In fact, it's one of the first questions I ask my patients this time of year: Did you get your flu shot yet? Usually the answer is no, and I'm not surprised. They have so many excuses, like:
"I'm too busy."
"I'm young and healthy - I won't get the flu."
"If I was going to get it, I would have already."
"I hate needles."
A recent survey from The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) and Rite Aide confirms it. Out of 1,000 U.S. women between the ages of 26 and 74 years of age, 49 percent do not intend to get a flu shot despite the fact that 44 percent said the flu is a serious threat to their health.
The number one reason they cited? Fear they would get the flu from getting the vaccine.
Let me set the record straight: this is a complete myth. In the 30 years that I've been a physician, I have never seen anyone die from the flu shot - but I have had patients die from the flu. According to the National Institutes of Health, 36,000 people die from seasonal flu and 200,000 more are hospitalized.
So even if you get some achiness or a low grade fever, take it as a good sign: your immune system is simply reacting to the protein in the vaccine, which means you're likely to be protected.
Although the flu season is off to a slow start, the Centers for Disease Control and Preventon (CDC) says the number of cases are bound to increase.
Need more reasons why you should get your flu shot?
Here are five.
Baby, it's cold outside. You can get the flu any time of the year, but the peak season is during the winter months between December and Februrary. There are lots of theories as to why this happens and what exactly is going on in the environment that helps to spread the virus. One reason I believe is that because we're indoors most of the time, we're not getting enough sunlight. UV is a disinfectant, so we're missing out on their purifying effects of the sun. What's more, during the winter months the sunshine is not coming in at a direct angle so it's not as effective at killing germs.
The flu shot is NOT 100% effective. that's right - it's only 50 percent effective, which makes you wonder, "Then why even bother?" Well, let's look at it this way: If 10 percent of the people in your office get the flu shot, and just one person gets sick with the flu, more of your colleagues have a greater risk of getting sick than if everybody got the shot in the first place.
The symptoms stink. Colds may be uncomfortable and inconvenient but the flu is downright miserable. Cold symptoms tend to start slowly, while the flu slams you hard and the only option is your bed. Fever (or chills) are common, but is not always present with the flu. Other symptoms include cough, sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue.
People don't wash their hands. Proper hand washing - scrubbing with soap and water for 20 seconds, rinsing, and then drying - is the best way to prevent the spread of the flu. Yet a whopping 70 percent of people admit they only rinse their hands with water after using a public restroom, according to a recent survey by the Bradley Corporation. Pretty gross, right? Chances are these same people are not washing their hands after sneezing, blowing their nose, or coughing. Plus, people are contagious one day before having symptoms, and up to 7 days after getting sick, leaving you even more vulnerable.
Medication won't cure the flu. If you do get the flu, antiviral prescription medications like Tamiflu and Relenza may reduce symptoms, cut down on sick days, and prevent flu complications that could land you in the hospital, but they won't cure the flu. Also, because we can't predict how severe or widespread the flu season will be, flu vaccines and antiviral meds could turn out to be scarce.
My advice? Prevention is the best medicine. Get your flu shot today.
As we enter the holidays, keep in mind that along with the season's joys, there are higher risks of illness and injury. Here's my simple formula for a Happy Holiday Season:
1. Take Care of Yourself
Modify your exercise program for cooler, wetter weather. Don't stop taking those daily walks - just move them indoors!
Stick with your quality nutrition program. "Just Say No" to sugar, fat, and excessive alcohol.
Get your flu shot. Build immunity before visiting friends and relatives spreading cheer (and germs).
Avoid ladders. Nearly every year someone we love suffers serious injury installing lights or rooftop decorations during the holidays. Ask someone more agile for help.
Practice fire safety. Check holiday lighting for frayed cords. Use fire screens around fireplaces and stoves. And remember - candles during dinner may set a great table, but those small flames can spread quickly.
2. Take Care of Others
Volunteer at a food bank or community center.
Visit someone who is isolated during this season of good cheer. Whether from illness, disability, bereavement, or just a case of the blues, this can be a challenging time of year.
3. Have Some Fun!
Bring a friend and join us for our Second Annual Healthy Holidays Open House on December 9, 2014. See you there!
On behalf of your n1Health team, thanks for supporting our program of good health. Spread the word! We still have room for new patients who are looking for a comprehensive, compassionate, health-centered approach. Yours in health, Dr. Dan