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2012-09-13 digital edition

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2012-09-13 / General Stories

Now’s The Time To Get A Flu Shot

By Bob Moos, Southwest public affairs officer for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

There’s no such thing as “just the flu,” especially for older adults.

More than 200,000 Americans land in the hospital because of influenza each year, and anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 die of complications from it annually.

Seniors are particularly vulnerable to the contagious disease and its consequences. Even a healthy person’s immune system can weaken with age. Adults 65 and older account for 60 percent of the flu-related hospitalizations and 90 percent of the deaths.

As flu season approaches again, it’s time to take the usual precautions – wash your hands, avoid touching your face and limit your contact with people who are sick.

But remember – your best defense is an annual flu shot.

Flu season can start as early as October. Because older adults are at a higher risk and because it takes about two weeks for an inoculation to provide protection, health officials advise getting a shot as soon as possible.

Last year’s flu season began late and was mild compared with previous seasons, but there’s no way to predict how mild or severe this year’s season will be.

Even if you were vaccinated last year, you will need a shot this year. The immunity you acquired from last season’s vaccination has since waned, and this season’s vaccine has been especially designed to fight this year’s most likely strains.

Manufacturers project they will produce up to 149 million doses for this season, compared with 133 million doses distributed last year.

As in past seasons, flu vaccine is available in many locations, including doctor offices, clinics, community health departments and pharmacies.

Adults 65 and older have two vaccine options – the traditional flu shot, and a newer, higher dose vaccine that is supposed to trigger a stronger immune response.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention hasn’t expressed a preference yet, so you may want to talk with your health care provider about which is right for you.

If you’re enrolled in original Medicare’s Part B, Medicare will pay for either vaccine option. Your out-of-pocket cost will be nothing, as long as the health care provider agrees not to charge more than Medicare pays.

Likewise, if you’re enrolled in a private Medicare Advantage health plan, your insurance company will cover the cost of a shot once every flu season.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends annual vaccinations for almost everyone.

Still, some people resist vaccinations because they mistakenly think it’s dangerous.

True, a very limited number of individuals with severe allergies to eggs or a history of Guillain- Barre Syndrome should not get a flu vaccine without consulting a doctor. But overall, decades of experience have shown influenza vaccines to be safe.

The flu vaccine can’t give you the flu. Side effects are rare. At worst, a few people may have sore muscles or a fever a day or two afterward as they produce antibodies.

That’s a far cry from the high fever, headaches, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and body aches common with the flu – not to mention the potentially life-threatening complications.

There’s no better time than now to get a shot.

When you do, you’ll protect not only yourself but also those around you. By avoiding the flu, you’ll avoid spreading it to family, co-workers and friends.

To learn more about steps to take during the upcoming flu season, visit Medicare’s website, www.medicare.gov, or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ special website, www.flu.gov.

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