Last year, Americans spent more than $6.63 billion on over-the-counter cough, cold and flu remedies, reports the Consumer Health Care Products Association.
Since there is no cure for the common cold, products that promise to quell the symptoms often offer the best hope for relief. But there is a more efficient way of treating influenza — simply prevent it.
The flu can be serious, hospitalizing about 200,000 Americans each year, according to flu.gov, a U.S. Department of Health and Hospitals website. Between 30,000 and 35,000 people die from complications caused by the virus, said Dr. Frank Welch, medical director of the immunization program for the state Department of Health and Hospitals.
Annually, 111 million workdays — representing $7 billion in sick days and decreased productivity — are lost to flu, says the U.S. DHH website.
Symptoms typically include cough, sore throat, fatigue, a runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, possibly fever or chills and gastrointestinal problems.
Ever since the vaccine became widely available 20 years ago, much of that suffering is preventable.
Yet some Americans remain squeamish about getting the flu shot. They would rather risk illness and spend $250 to $1,000 in recovery costs for everything from tissues to the antiviral Tamiflu than receive a preventive with no out-of-pocket cost.
Previous vaccine shortages, occasional miscalculations of dominant strains and its absence from mandatory school immunization lists have convinced some adults the vaccine is unnecessary. An even greater deterrent is the myth the vaccine actually induces the flu, a notion that has been emphatically refuted by science.
Because every individual is at risk of either spreading the virus or developing serious complications that could lead to hospitalization or death, DHH recommends flu immunization for everyone older than six months and healthy enough to tolerate the vaccine.
“People who get flu shots not only protect themselves and their families, they protect everyone else around them because they are not spreading the virus,” said Welch.
Since the protective powers of the vaccine last eight to nine months, Welch advises everyone to get immunized as soon as it becomes available to avoid infection.
However, the window of opportunity for inoculation typically remains open from the beginning of the season in October until its close in April.
Fortunately, private insurers and government agencies have been quick to realize the health and cost benefits of an immunized population, so the vaccine is readily available at doctor’s offices, schools, public health units, grocery stores and pharmacies.
In addition, there are immunization options that encourage compliance by catering to children and needle-phobic adults. Since 2007, healthy individuals between the ages of 2 and 50 can receive a nasal mist.
Despite claims to the contrary, Welch says it is impossible for the flu shot to give you the flu.
“The live virus cannot survive in the lungs, where the full-blown flu thrives,” he says. “The injectable vaccine incorporates only the virus’ protein shell not its vicious DNA. Essentially, it’s the equivalent of a car chassis without an engine — it doesn’t have the power to go anywhere and wreak havoc.”