Well, it's November again and you know what that means: it's flu season. This is a dreaded time of year for anyone who works in offices, schools or any such places where you're in close quarters with a lot of other people. Let's face it; unless you have access to a nice portable bubble and don't mind people giving you funny stares wherever you go, you're going to come in contact with the craftiest of viruses: influenza.
If you're unlucky enough to catch the flu, you'll be taken by muscle aches, congestion, fever and a whole host of other symptoms that are sure to make you feel miserable, keep you away from work and generally make life unpleasant. But it doesn't have to be this way. Go to your doctor and ask him about the flu shot. If you want to stay influenza-free over the next few months, the flu shot, in my opinion, is the way to go. And there are several reasons for that.
Influenza really is a resilient little bug. If you've ever wondered why you normally only get a virus like chickenpox once in your life and not over and over again like the flu, it's because the flu never stops changing. Every year the strains of flu that we come across are completely different than the ones we fought off last year. That's where vaccinations come in.
Flu shots give your body a little warning about the types of flu that it's most likely to encounter in the next few months. Vaccines are essentially collections of "dead," inactive or weakened flu strains. The inactive viruses can't actually give you the flu, but your body treats them the same as if they were active. When you get a dose of the flu vaccine, like when you actually get sick with the virus, your body creates antibodies and keeps them around to fight the real thing when it gets to you. So the flu shot gives you the means to fight off infection without actually making you sick in the first place.
Unfortunately, because the flu is so unpredictable, you really do need to get a new shot every year at around this time if you want to fight off the newest wave of flu viruses.
Vaccinations can make managing our health during the flu season a lot easier and they're not expensive at all; usually between $10 and $15 per dose. There are some groups of individuals, however, for whom they could be life savers and are therefore priceless. After the first few years of our lives, most of us have developed healthy immune systems that are capable of fighting off minor viruses like the flu. It may make us miserable for a week or so, but we'll eventually recover on our own and get on with our lives.
Very young people and senior citizens, however, have immune systems that are weaker and may not be able to fight off the virus as efficiently. For them, a case of the flu could actually develop into more severe health problems and even lead to death in patients with sufficiently weak systems. Among the groups that are at the highest risk of dangerous flu-related complications are those over 65 years old, those with chronic health conditions (e.g. heart and liver disease), residents of retirement and nursing homes, health-care workers and young children (six months to five years old). That's why, aside from babies younger than six months old who aren't eligible for the vaccination, flu shots are available free for these groups in most places in Canada and, indeed, the world. (You should consult with your doctor to find out if the flu shot is right for you.)
Admittedly, there are people who don't get their flu shots, and they do it for one reason: They don't think it's worth the trouble. Well, that depends on your definition of "trouble."
For most people, being sick with the flu means suffering through three days of intense sickness and up to a week of headaches, runny nose, coughing and all the usual misery that goes along with the flu. That means no going out, no working, and having nothing to do but lie around, blow your nose and watch daytime TV. Most of us probably wouldn't mind missing one day of work, but a week off? Especially if your employer doesn't offer paid sick leave, this might put you in a hard spot financially, and you could have avoided it if you'd just taken the time to go get your shot.