Flu facts: Top 5 things you need to know about the flu shot this year


(BPT) - You hear about it on the news. You see the signs in the pharmacy windows. Even your friends and co-workers are talking about it. The flu shot is a highly discussed topic, and for good reason!

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on average, 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population — or up to 64.6 million people — gets the flu, and tens of thousands of people are hospitalized every year because of it. Further, the flu can strike anyone, and adults aged 18-64 years old are the most likely to get ill, accounting for 60 percent of flu-related hospitalizations. This number goes up in certain areas, and some states — such as Texas, Florida and California — tend to be hit harder by the flu than others.

“Flu-related illnesses are already trending twice as high in 2017 as they were in 2016, and we are seeing an uptick in flu-related visits across the country,” said Dr. Jason Tibbels, MD, board-certified family physician and director for quality programs at Teladoc, the largest and most trusted telehealth provider in the world. “This year, officials want at least 70 percent of Americans to get a flu shot; however, fewer than 50 percent were vaccinated against the flu last season.”

How can you protect yourself and your loved ones from the annual flu outbreak? The first step is to understand the benefits and any potential risks of flu vaccination and then — if it’s right for you — go get the flu shot.

It’s also important to understand that while the vaccine is the best defense in protecting against flu, there’s still a chance that with it, you could get sick. If you do start to experience symptoms, telehealth is an on-demand, anytime, anywhere resource. This means you can access hassle-free medical care from your home during the middle of the night, from your college dorm room, while at the airport for an early morning business trip, and anywhere else you have access to a phone, a mobile app or the web. A telemedicine doctor can assess your symptoms before they worsen. Visit Teladoc.com/flu to learn more about the telehealth benefits that may be available to you to access care when and where you need it.

We asked Teladoc’s Dr. Tibbels why the flu shot is so important this year. Here are his top reasons:

1) It keeps you out of the emergency room. The flu shot reduces the risk of hospitalization due to flu by approximately 50 to 60 percent.

2) It reduces sick days. Missed time at work due to flu-related illnesses causes an additional $16.3 billion in lost earnings annually.

3) It promotes overall health. The flu vaccine is a helpful tool for people with chronic health conditions. Flu vaccination is associated with lower rates of some cardiac events among people with heart disease, and is also proven to have reduced hospitalizations among people with diabetes and chronic lung disease. Further, vaccination helps protect women during and after pregnancy, reducing the risk of flu-associated acute respiratory infection by about 50 percent. And getting vaccinated also protects the baby several months after birth.

4) If you do get sick, it may decrease the severity. The flu vaccination does not guarantee protection against the virus; people who get the shot are still at risk of getting sick. However, if you do get sick, the flu vaccination can make your illness milder. If you start to experience symptoms — whether or not you’ve had the flu vaccine — it’s important to see a doctor. Many people have 24-hour access to board-certified and licensed physicians seven days a week via telemedicine from home, work or on the road through a phone or tablet, making it easier than ever to get a diagnosis and start treatment.

5) It helps stop flu from spreading. Did you know that the flu virus can be spread to people within three feet of a sick patient when that patient coughs, sneezes or talks? Getting vaccinated doesn’t just help protect you from the flu; the flu shot is the responsible choice for protecting those around you. Vaccination is especially important for protecting more vulnerable populations, such as babies and young children, the elderly, and people with certain chronic health conditions, like cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

“When it comes to the flu, it’s not wise to take a wait-and-see approach,” said Dr. Tibbels. “Talk to a doctor! We’re available all day, every day, all through flu season and beyond.”

To learn more about Teladoc and the level of flu risk where you live, visit Teladoc.com/flu.