The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that influenza is increasing nationally and is expected to continue spreading in the coming weeks.
This season's early predominant flu strain is related to the particularly nasty H1N1—the virus that caused the international pandemic in 2009 and killed an estimated 284,000 people worldwide. The H1N1 virus causes severe illness in all ages, but compared to other flu strains, it causes higher rates of illness and death among young and middle-age adults, including those with no underlying health conditions.
What's at risk?
Since November, many people have been hospitalized with flu or flu complications, and increasing numbers of people are dying. If you get the flu, at the very least you will:
Miss work, school, favorite activities—for likely a week or more
Feel miserable with fever, aches and pains, and a dry, hacking cough, and the recovery will take longer than you'd like
Spread the flu to unimmunized contacts, including family, friends, and coworkers
A domino effect
The flu is extremely contagious, and simply by getting the flu yourself, you can put others at risk.
"The main reasons we encourage flu shots are because the flu can cause very significant symptoms and it can lead to serious complications," says Dr. Csaba Mera, deputy chief medical officer of Cambia Health Solutions. "And for people with underlying medical conditions, it can be much worse, or even lethal."
Those most at risk for severe complications from the flu include:
Children younger than five, but especially those two or under
Adults 65 and older
Those with chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or asthma or other lung disease.
Your best protection against the flu is the vaccine. If you have not had a flu shot this season, the CDC urges getting one as soon as possible.
Is it too late?
"If you're not sick yet, you can still get a flu shot. It's not too late," says Dr. Mera. Flu often peaks in January or later, as is the case this year. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body, so it's best to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
Will my insurance pay?
In most cases, flu shots are covered 100 percent under benefits compliant with the Affordable Care Act. If you're a Regence member, check your coverage under Immunizations in your benefit booklet. Or, contact Customer Service using the number on the back of your member card to find out how your plan covers flu shots.
Where can I get a shot?
Flu shots are available through these options:
Go to a participating (in network) pharmacy or clinic. This is the quickest and most economical option. Many pharmacies offer walk-in vaccinations, so no appointment is necessary. Don't forget to give them your insurance information.
See your primary care provider. To avoid paying for an office visit along with the flu shot, ask if walk-in immunizations are available when you call.
Use the Flu Vaccine Finder to locate flu shots near you.
How else can I protect against the flu?
Getting a flu shot each year is the best way to prevent the flu. If you do get the flu, antiviral drugs, which must be prescribed by your doctor, may be an important second line of defense.
"In general, good hygiene—like sneezing in your elbow, washing your hands after you blow your nose, and avoiding hand shaking and hugging if you're sick, can help prevent spreading illness," says Dr. Mera. "If you're sick, especially if you're coughing a lot, consider staying home. This goes for anything, not just flu, because other illnesses quickly spread, too."