The influenza virus — commonly known as the flu — affects up to 20 percent of Americans annually, leaving more than 200,000 people hospitalized from complications each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The flu is particularly dangerous for Miami seniors, who often have pre-existing chronic health conditions, such as diabetes or heart disease.
There are many ways to reduce the risk of catching the virus, such as washing your hands often, controlling your chronic illnesses and eating healthy.
However, an annual flu shot is the most effective way to prevent the flu and reduce the risk of complications.
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A common misconception is that you can actually get sick with the flu from the vaccine. This is simply untrue.
Flu vaccines are safe, effective and have been used for more than 60 years.
In fact, the CDC estimated that in 2013, the flu vaccine prevented 6.6 million illnesses, 3.2 million doctor visits and at least 79,000 hospitalizations.
Fortunately, there are free and low-cost options for Miami residents to receive a flu shot.
For example, Medicare Advantage plans provide free vaccines to seniors. Check with your health plan to find out if your flu shot is covered or discounted.
You can also find a nearby location to receive the flu vaccine by visiting flushot.healthmap.org.
If you still encounter common flu symptoms — including a sore throat, runny nose, headaches, chills and nausea — get some rest, drink plenty of water and stay away from others to avoid spreading the sickness.
If your symptoms worsen, you develop shortness of breath, chest or abdominal pain, your temperature rises above 103 degrees Fahrenheit or you have a chronic condition for which you are being treated, contact your doctor immediately.
Reduce your risk this flu season and schedule your flu shot today.
Jill Sumfest, South Florida Medicare chief medical officer, Humana, Miramar