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Flu Vaccine

You can skip your flu shot this year — if you would rather get sick than go to work. While you hope to recover in your bed at home alone, you can reflect that you are among the 5 percent of Americans who told surveyors that they made that choice.

While you’re at it, you might also want to consider that about 35,000 of us die and 225,000 get sick enough to need a hospital bed because of the flu. If you recover, you might think about trying to get a job that you hate less that the chance of getting the flu.

As many as one-fifth of us will get the flu this year. Most of those who will get it are among the 45 percent of Americans who will skip getting their annual flu shot. Their reasons for skipping the shot are just as good as those who might have to look for a new job in this difficult economy while waiting for Congress to extend unemployment benefits.

The most common rationale for skipping the shot — offered by two-thirds of the skippers — is that they think it’s better for the body to build its own natural immunity. The trouble with that dubious theory, however, is the flu virus mutates so fast that that our immune response usually lasts just a few months.

More than one-third of the skippers worry about the side effects. “I heard that there are some nasty reactions among those who have already gotten their flu shots,” my best friend wrote me a few days ago.

But the side effects of getting a flu shot are uncommon and usually mild. They including soreness or redness at the injection site, aches, and mild fever.

A few people do have a more serious allergic reaction, and maybe one out million of us might develop Guillain-Barre syndrome. “But the shot’s protection against illness, hospitalization, and death far outweighs the risk,” concludes Consumer Reports.

If you are feeling lousy, you may well have the flu. “I think I have it,” my best friend wrote. “Ache all over, nausea, chest congestion, cough, loss to voice, fever, tiredness, etc. It has held on too long. It is too hard to shake. It limits my thinking and energy.”

His symptoms are typical of the flu. Other symptoms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, include headaches, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, and diarrhea and vomiting. While the common cold has similar symptoms, the flu usually starts suddenly.

The flu season is just starting. So my friend didn’t think he needed to get a flu shot so soon.

But like for my friend, it’s already too late for some people. Outbreaks of the flu can happen as early as October, the CDC says.

If you live in Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina, Virginia, or West Virginia it may be too late for you. The flu has already reached a “moderate” level in those eight states, according to a great new Google tool.

Only in Texas is the flu still at its lowest level, “minimal.” The rest of the country is still at a “low” level. Past trends indicate that we won’t reach “high” and “intense” levels until next month.

But if you wait until December, it might be too late for you wherever you live. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the shot to work.

The shot doesn’t work perfectly, partly because researchers have to guess how the flu virus will mutate. But even among people in their 60s, it usually prevents the flu in about 60 percent of them. People who are older than 50 — and especially those 65 or older — are among those who really need to get a flu shot.

People who have diabetes are especially encouraged to get a flu shot. We are “at high risk for serious complications from the flu,” the CDC says.

I remember how awful it was when I got the flu as a child before 1943 when the first general flu vaccinations programs began. It was even worse than going to school. But after getting my annual flu shot for more than half a century, I haven’t had the flu since then.

This year I got my flu shot in early October as I usually do. Until now I’ve always had a hard time to find when and where to get it. But now Google Flu Trends has two good “flu shot locator” links.

One is the American Lung Association’s Flu Clinic Locator. The other is a much more comprehensive one from the CDC. This state-by-state listing is the one that I bookmarked for next year.

I hope that you still have time to get your flu shot this year.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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