Dr. Shah's Prescription for NY - December 2011
The coming of fall ushers in an annual health care milestone - the beginning of flu season. Two years ago, a particularly virulent strain of influenza (flu) known as H1N1 hit New York hard, and New Yorkers turned out in record numbers to get vaccinated .
So why don't we use the same effort to protect ourselves from the "regular" flu?
Most critically, there is nothing "regular" about influenza. The flu can be a serious disease. Each year in the United States 5-20% of the population gets the flu, more than 225,000 people are hospitalized, and more than 23,600 people die from flu (mostly older adults). During the 2010-11 flu season, there were more than 4,200 flu-associated hospitalizations in New York State and seven pediatric deaths. Over the past four years, 50 children in New York have died from the flu.
Influenza vaccination rates have always been lower than public health experts would like. Last year, only 43% of Americans got a flu shot, and that was a record year! We need to do better… we must do better.
The single best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from this potentially deadly disease is to get the flu vaccine each and every year.
Everyone 6 months of age and older should get vaccinated against the flu. Decades of research from hundreds of medical, government and nonprofit organizations around the world have proven time and time again that vaccines are safe and effective. Influenza vaccines have been used in the Unites States for more than 50 years and hundreds of millions of people have safely received seasonal influenza vaccines.
The 2011-2012 influenza vaccines protect against three different influenza viruses. Even though the vaccine did not change from last year, a person's immune protection declines over time. Annual vaccination is needed for optimal protection. Most flu vaccines are given with a needle, often called the "flu shot." The newest technology is an intradermal shot that uses a very short needle. Adults 65 years and older can receive a high-dose vaccine to boost their immunity. For healthy people 2 through 49 years who are not pregnant, there is a completely needle free vaccine that is squirted into your nose. This is ideal for many children and those who do not like needles.
So, what can you do? Call your health care provider now and talk to him or her about which vaccine is right for you. If you do not have a medical home, remember, you can also find flu vaccine at your local health departments and pharmacies.
When the season turns again and we are all hunkered down against the Northeast winter elements, you will be glad that getting the flu is one less thing you have to worry about.
For additional information, visit the New York State Department of Health web site at: Seasonal Influenza (Flu).
For Dr. Shah, this is a Prescription for NY.