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Editorial: Not to late to avoid the flu

It’s not too late to get a flu shot, and we urge everyone to follow the federal Centers for Disease Control’s recommendation and do so. The flu, or a flu-related illness, claimed the lives of 13 New Hampshire residents in the past month alone. The vaccine, which can be taken by anyone after 6 months of age, doesn’t offer perfect protection, but it reduces the risk of getting the flu by about 60 percent. It also confers several other crucial benefits. People who get the vaccine, if they do get the flu, experience far milder symptoms, and their risk of being hospitalized by the illness drops by 85 percent.

Getting a flu shot does something else too: It helps protect everyone else, including those most at risk: the young, people over age 65, and those with compromised immune systems or a chronic illness. Unfortunately, according to the CDC, fewer than half of all Americans – 42 percent – and even one-third of health care providers, don’t bother, don’t believe flu vaccine works or fear that the shot will give them the flu. It can’t. The viruses used in the vaccine are dead, but since it takes the body about two weeks after the vaccination to build the antibodies protect against the flu, some people who fall ill after receiving the vaccination wrongly blame the injection.

The state does not mandate that health-care workers, even those who work in nursing homes, be vaccinated against the flu and pneumonia, but the institutions are required to offer the vaccines to all employees and residents. People with loved ones in a nursing home or assisted living facility would be wise to ask its employees and administrators if they’ve gotten the shots and put pressure on them to do so if they haven’t.

The flu season started early, but there’s no way of telling how long it will last and how many lives it will claim. All 13 victims of a flu-related illness were 65 or older, but while the young may have escaped death, they haven’t escaped the misery of the flu. There has been a huge increase in school absences and 18 reported outbreaks of respiratory illness so far this season, said New Hampshire Public Health Director Jose Montero.

People who have (or believe they have the flu) should not go to work or to school until they’ve gone at least a day with no fever or serious symptoms. While the H3N2 strain of influenza A is the one most prevalent this season, other flu viruses and viruses that cause severe colds are circulating, and it can be difficult without testing to determine the precise cause of a flu-like illness. The good news is that most flu sufferers get better with lots of rest and plenty of fluids. Severe cases may require a doctor’s visit and treatment with an antiviral drug.

Cut the risk of contracting the flu by getting the shot, which protects against the H3N2 strain, influenza B and the nasty H1N1 virus that caused a pandemic in 2009. Then, stay clear of people who are ill when possible, wash hands well and often with ordinary soap or, when that’s not possible, with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. On average, the seasonal flu kills 36,000 Americans each year, a toll that could easily be reduced if more people were vaccinated.

Yup, this is the first year I took the shot. The issue in the past is that the shots were ineffective, this year is the exception. Reading all reports it is probably a good year to have one.

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