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Flu IQ - Go ahead and take a shot

This fall, TaxWatch Research Analyst and RN Allison Wiman (photo, right) gave hundreds of flu shots in Tallahassee through the Medical Reserve Corps.

Across the nation, influenza infections result in tens of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths annually.  It is estimated that over 1.3 million Floridians will catch the flu this year, resulting in 2.3 million lost days of work and $307 million in lost productivity.   The best way to prevent the flu is via a flu vaccination, which the CDC recommends yearly for nearly everyone 6 months and older.   However many residents of the Sunshine State fail to get vaccinated.  In fact, during the 2014-2015 flu season, Florida had the lowest vaccination rate of all 50 states; only 39.2% of Floridians were immunized (compared to a national average of 47.2%).  

Those that choose not to receive the vaccination give many reasons - almost all are based on inaccurate assumptions.  Since Florida TaxWatch is in the business of setting the record straight, let’s take a minute to test your knowledge with the flu IQ quiz.  Are the following statements true or false?

  • Although rare, you can get the flu from the flu vaccination.
  • You don't need the flu vaccine this year if you got it last year.
  • The side effects of the flu shot are worse than the flu.
  • If you constantly wash your hands and eat right, you can avoid the flu.

All of the above statements are completely false.  Let’s deal with these common myths one-by-one.  First, you will never get the flu from the flu vaccination.  The vaccination contains only tiny particles of 3 to 4 “strains” of non-living viruses.  When introduced into the body, the particles trick the body into mounting an immune response so if you are exposed to a living virus, your body has a better chance of fighting off infection.  However, full immunity takes about 2 weeks to develop.  Thus, If exposure to the virus occurs prior to or shortly after immunization, you may become sick.  Also, there is always the possibility of an infection from a strain of virus not included in the immunization.  

This brings us to the second point – last year’s vaccination will not work this year.  Flu viruses are constantly changing.   The CDC and WHO, using information from over 100 influenza laboratories throughout the world, determine the 3 or 4 strains most likely to pose the greatest risk.  These strains are incorporated into the next vaccination.  Thus the vaccination is different every year and annual vaccination is suggested. 

Flu symptoms  include extreme exhaustion, horrible headaches, aches, fever and chills, and a dry cough.   In contrast, side effects from the immunization are generally very mild and may include soreness at the injection sight, headache, fever, nausea, and muscle aches.  According to the CDC, “Flu vaccines are among the safest medical products in use. Hundreds of millions of Americans have safely received flu vaccines over the past 50 years, and there has been extensive research supporting the safety of flu vaccines.”

While healthy living and frequent hand washing certainly are a good idea, don’t count on these habits to protect you from the flu.   Those that have been infected by the flu shed contagious virus 3 days beforethey show symptoms.  After symptoms develop, coughing and sneezing spread the virus.  Surveys indicate that only 24 percent of men and 39 percent of women report always washing their hands after coughing or sneezing and studies have shown that the flu virus can live on hard surfaces (such as books, phones, door knobs) for 2 to 6 hours. A recent study found that people touch a common object an average of 3.3 times per hour and their faces an average of 3.6 times per hour.   While hand hygiene certainly reduces  your risk, the flu vaccination cuts it more.

Now that we have raised your flu IQ, Florida TaxWatch encourages all Floridians to visit their doctor, pharmacist, or one of the numerous flu shot clinics being held around the state.  The flu vaccination is safe and proven to be effective in reducing sick time, protecting against productivity loss, and decreasing the risk of hospitalization and death due to flu-related illnesses.  Spread the word – not the flu.  Your family, friends, and coworkers will thank you.

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