I admit it: I'm scared of needles. But I'm going to get a flu shot later today.
Nowadays I can't even make excuses about how tricky it is to fit the vaccination into my schedule. After all, my local CVS gives the shot 24/7.
If I start to waver as the needle hour approaches, I just need to remind myself that each year the flu kills anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 Americans. More than 90 percent of these deaths are in people over 65 — but it can be fatal to anyone.
You can keep yourself and your family healthier this fall and winter if you trek to your local pharmacy or doctor's office, too. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone six months and older get one. And why not do it now since the flu season can begin as soon as early October? (It typically peaks in January and February.)
If you got the shot last year, you're not off the hook. New viruses can appear each year.
While you're in prevent-illnesses mode, check to be sure you and your kids are up to date on your other vaccinations, too. Look at the CDC schedule. Did your kids get their tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccine? If you're not sure, check with their doctor.
Immunizations aren't just for kids. Adults should get a tetanus and diphtheria booster every decade. And if you're 60, you should get a zoster shot to protect you against shingles. To find out about other adult vaccinations (yes, there are more of them), visit the MayoClinic.com and ZocDoc.com pages on the topic.
If you're planning a winter vacation to a tropical place, start figuring out what vaccinations you will need to get. Check out the CDC's "travelers' health" page so you'll know that you should get, say, a yellow fever inoculation before traveling to places like Brazil and Bolivia. (Some exotic-location trips require a malaria pill.)
Alas, no shots exist to protect you against some viruses. To try to prevent West Nile, which can cause fever, headaches, and even encephalitis if the infection travels to your brain, you need to use bug spray and minimize your exposure to mosquitos. (Get rid of stagnant water in bird baths and tire swings since the insects lay eggs in it and cover your skin with clothing, the thicker the better.) The good news about West Nile: "You can't get it from a person who has the virus," says Dr. George Liakeas, a New York City family physician and member of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.
Now I'm taking a deep breath and steeling myself for my needle later today. After all, the shot is far better than getting the flu – which can cause vomiting, fever, dizziness, and even seizures. I just need to remind my younger daughter, who apparently inherited a shot-averse gene from me, of these symptoms so that I can get her to tag along. Here's hoping you and your family will get vaccinated, too.
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