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Flu season starting with a bang

 

Influenza kills. Sure, most of us get through it — the flu is like a bad cold with a fever; we miss some days of work or the kids miss a week of school and infect those around them. But some of us aren’t so lucky. And none of us can predict who will be infected.

Last year was a bumper year for the flu. Infection rates were higher than usual. This year is starting with even more of a bang. Locally, emergency room cases of flu-like illness are even higher than last year. That means more flu pneumonias and hospitalizations. And already, early in the season, we’ve had deaths right here in Miami-Dade County.

No one thinks influenza will kill someone they love, but the thing is the influenza virus doesn’t care. It doesn’t care if you are pregnant, if you have kids to take care of, if you were looking forward to Thanksgiving, Christmas, your next anniversary, or a family reunion. It doesn’t care that you are only a baby and/or have cancer and depended on other people around you to get the vaccine so that you’re protected. It will infect anyone. But it doesn’t have to.

Influenza doesn’t have to kill because infection is preventable with vaccination. The most important people to vaccinate may be children, not only for themselves, but because children are responsible for spreading the virus through families and communities. Each year 20,000 children are hospitalized with flu and almost half of them had been perfectly healthy.

The flu vaccine is safe. It’s quick. It’s easy and it’s so much better than getting the flu! It’s meant for people six months and older, including pregnant women and everyone around them. If you don’t like shots (who does?) and you’re a healthy 2- to 49-year-old, you can get the vaccine without a needle, as a nasal spray.

Please call your health care provider or visit the health department. Adults can also visit local pharmacies. Get a flu vaccine! Get it early. Protect yourself and everyone around you.

Judy Schaechter, MD, chairperson, Immunization Coalition and Lillian Rivera, R.N., administrator, Florida Department of Health, Miami-Dade County

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