Why getting your flu shot should be top priority
It seems you can’t flip the channel, log on to the Internet or get through a conversation the past week without the focus turning to Ebola. So much panic and airtime has been dedicated to the disease, it may be difficult to separate the facts from the fiction.
However, we may be overlooking the greater threat that’s right under our noses this time of year—influenza.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates between five and 20 percent of Americans suffer from the flu each year, resulting in more than 200,000 hospitalizations and between 3,000 to 49,000 deaths. So, though fear has escalated since the first Ebola death and the first two confirmed cases of transmission to health care workers in the U.S., many experts caution that the flu is still a far greater threat to the average person.
“Ebola is an incredibly dangerous disease and needs to be taken seriously,” says Dr. James Malow, infection control specialist at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago. “There is no cure and the death rate in Africa is now up to 50 percent. However, here in the U.S., I’m much more concerned about the flu than Ebola.”
Dr. Malow stresses the small number of Americans who have acquired Ebola in the United States—two health care workers who were caring for a man who was in America visiting from Liberia, one of the countries hardest hit in West Africa.
“But the flu can take the lives of tens of thousands in any given year,” he says. “And we’ve just entered the flu season, when the risk of contracting the illness is the greatest.”
In addition, the flu can be much easier to catch, being an airborne virus. Ebola can only be contracted when in contact with bodily fluids of someone who is infected, he says.
And a person can be contagious for days before showing symptoms, so they may be spreading the illness unknowingly long before they even know they’re sick, Dr. Malow says. And many even forge ahead and go into work or school when sick. On the other hand, Ebola is only contagious when a person begins to show symptoms of the disease, making it easier to quarantine them before they can infect anyone else.
“Ebola is a very real concern and the CDC and state and local health agencies are doing all they can to contain it, should it further impact America,” Dr. Malow says. “But nearly everyone can take responsibility for their health and get their annual flu vaccination, which can save lives.”
“Along with keeping your hands washed and clean, the vaccination is your best protection against the flu, year to year,” Dr. Malow says. “While we’re all concerned with Ebola and feel for the thousands who have been affected, we don’t want to lose sight of the very real threat of influenza and what we can do to minimize its impact. Be sure to get your flu shot.”
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health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care sites, also including freelance or intern writers.