Vaccines help healthy, at-risk

Posted Oct. 13, 2010, at 7:20 p.m.

There’s a woman who works in our office who still talks about the time she got the flu — in 1995. “I got sick the day after Christmas,” she says. “Even though I was young and healthy, I developed a complication. I didn’t feel like myself again until March.”

The flu is serious business. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that more than 200,000 people in the U.S. are hospitalized from flu-related complications on average each season, including 20,000 children younger than 5 years old. Each year, thousands of people die from the flu. Children, the elderly, those with underlying health conditions and pregnant women are particularly at risk for getting very sick, or even dying, from the flu.

Given the seriousness of influenza, the last people you would want to expose to the virus are hospital patients. That is why the CDC and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommend that all eligible health care workers be vaccinated against the flu. And it’s why the Maine Hospital Association board of directors has asked all Maine hospitals to track and maximize seasonal flu vaccination rates for their health care personnel.

This year, there’s plenty of vaccine to go around — even in an average year, about 10 percent of vaccine goes unused. The CDC is recommending that everyone 6 months and older get vaccinated for the flu unless there is a medical reason not to get it. A number of Maine’s hospitals already are hosting flu vaccine clinics, area drug stores have vaccine and even folks in offices like ours have been vaccinated.

I know some of you are reading this and thinking, “I’m healthy; I don’t need a flu shot.” But ask yourself — is everyone you’re in contact with also healthy? How about your elderly grandmother with the heart condition? Or your nephew with asthma? Or your pregnant neighbor? Or even your brother who works a job with no sick days — can he afford to be laid up for two weeks with the flu?

Because no vaccine is 100 percent effective in 100 percent of people, those folks at risk for complications depend on those of us who are healthy getting vaccinated to reduce their chances of being exposed to the influenza virus.

Think you’ll just stay away from those folks if you start to feel ill? By then, it might too late. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five to seven days after becoming sick. Children may pass the virus for longer than seven days.

Think getting the flu shot will give you the flu? Wrong again. The flu shot does not contain any live virus. Still not convinced? For more facts about the flu and flu vaccines, www.flu.gov is a terrific resource.

Please join us in taking care of ourselves and our communities. Wash your hands frequently, keep your hands away from your face, and get a flu vaccine today so we can all have a healthful fall and winter.

Steven R. Michaud is president of the Maine Hospital Association.

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