If you live in the Northeast Kingdom chances are that you know someone who came down with the flu last year, if you didn’t come down with it yourself. Influenza is caused by a virus that is easily transmitted through respiratory droplets from person to person. These droplets, when a person sneezes, coughs or even just talks, can travel through the air and land on their unsuspecting victims up to 6 feet away. This is one of the many reasons flu is so contagious.

The effects of flu vary from person to person. Some people experience a touch of fever and cough and nothing more. Others can become so severely symptomatic they end up in the emergency department or even admitted to the hospital. There are even some people who never get any kind of symptoms whatsoever. These people are lucky, but also become ‘vectors’, transmitting the flu virus to others unknowingly (they carry the illness but never know it).

The classic phrase I’ve heard in relation to the flu is, “I feel like I got hit by a freight train.” It’s truly no laughing matter. For the 2014-2015 year the CDC had reported 116 deaths in children due to influenza. That number is far higher for adults above the age of 65. Even more numerous are the numbers of individuals who are hospitalized for their illness. A study done in 2010 found that the economic impact of influenza on the US was estimated to be $29.12 billion for that year. More than half of that cost was attributed to days of work missed and loss of productivity.

It’s no wonder there’s such an emphasis placed on receiving a flu vaccine. Vaccines are typically stable products. For most illnesses they rarely ever change year to year. The smallpox vaccine remained unchanged for decades. Influenza is different. The virus itself changes from year to year. Like an evil villain in a horror movie, the virus mutates and can change what it looks like. Vaccines from previous years can’t “find” the virus and have to be constantly updated.

That means there are good years and bad years for vaccine efficacy. On the whole the vaccine is estimated to have a “60% efficacy.” There have been years, like in 2013 when scientists did an excellent job of identifying the virus and created a vaccine that was up to 90% effective. Others years, like the one that just passed, had lows in the 20s. While there are no guarantees that this next year’s vaccine will be better than the last, one thing is for certain; some protection is better than no protection.

While I pride myself for being relatively healthy, I too, will get vaccinated this year out of concern for the health of my patients and fellow community members. I highly encourage everyone to consider a flu shot yearly especially if you work with small children or older adults. Flu shots are now available at North Country Primary Care.

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North Country Hospital, ATTN: The Healthy Way, 189 Prouty Drive, Newport, VT 05855.