Scoppe: No flu shot? What’s the worst that could happen?

Associate EditorOctober 22, 2013 

— SO YOU HAVEN’T gotten a flu shot yet. It’s probably no big deal. Only 64,000 South Carolinians contracted the flu last year. Well, actually, that’s the number who got tested; lots of people don’t even go see their physician when they get the flu.

And so what if you’re one of them? What’s the worst that can happen? You probably won’t cough yourself into a cracked rib. The fever won’t make you that miserable. And the body aches and exhaustion probably will subside enough that you can drag yourself out of bed after a couple of days. That is, if you contact you doctor immediately, and get a prescription for an antiviral. And get someone to go pick it up for you, since you won’t have the energy to do that.

Even without the antiviral, you should be back to normal in a week or so.

Unless your flu sets off an ear infection or a sinus infection or dehydration or exacerbates your congestive heart failure, asthma, diabetes or other chronic condition, sending you to the hospital, as it did 1,700 South Carolinians last year.

Sure, your flu could trigger a killer case of pneumonia, congestive heart failure or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. But only about 35,000 Americans die each year as a result of contracting the flu. And last year, only 46 of them were South Carolinians.

Besides, you can get vaccinated against pneumonia. Of course, you ought to do that every five years, and you obviously don’t like shots, so … well, never mind. Ninety percent of the people who die as a result of the flu are at least 65.

So really, as long as you’re not one of those people for whom contracting the flu carries a high risk of death — those 65 or older, or with a chronic disease — you might as well just stick with the two-thirds of Americans who skip the vaccination and take their chances.

Well, unless you spend a lot of time around old people or people with chronic conditions. Or care about old people or people with chronic conditions. Or have kids — they don’t tend to die from the flu, but they do spread it, to each other, to their parents, to the old people who in turn die.

The fact is that avoiding the flu isn’t just about you. It’s about everyone you know and love. When you protect yourself from the flu, you also protect all the people you come into contact with — especially the oldest and youngest and weakest. That goes doubly when you get your kids vaccinated, because schools and day-care centers are influenza factories, churning out a virus that is little more than an inconvenience for most children but can kill grandparents.

Flu season can last through May. It already has started in South Carolina, and since it takes about two weeks for the shot to start working, you really need to go ahead and get vaccinated. Lack of time to go to your doctor’s office or the health department is not the excuse it used to be, since there’s now a drug store on nearly every corner that administers the shots whenever their pharmacies are open.

I got my flu shot the middle of last month, right before I went out of state on vacation. Walked into the drug store, filled out some minor paperwork, waited a few minutes while the pharmacist prepared the vaccine — not long enough to run through my email — and was looking for shampoo in less than 15 minutes.

It’s something I’ve done religiously every fall since third grade, when I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. You know — chronic condition, compromised immune system, high risk of death from influenza. I also don’t like feeling indescribably, miserably exhausted and achy, as I did the one time I contracted the flu. And I want to do my part to provide my community with what scientists call herd immunity.

Oh, and one more thing. Even after you get a flu shot (and especially if you don’t), please practice prevention: Wash your hands frequently, and always before you eat; cough or sneeze into a tissue or, if nothing else, your sleeve, instead of your hands; stay home if you’re sick; and stay away from others who are sick. As with the flu shot, taking these simple precautions doesn’t just protect you; it also protects everyone you love. And even those you just tolerate.

Ms. Scoppe can be reached at cscoppe@thestate.com or at (803) 771-8571. Follow her on Twitter @CindiScoppe.

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