There is nothing like a bout of flu to make you appreciate the flu shot. Ask JoJo O’Neal. She got the flu last season. Twice.
“I felt like a truck ran over me”
A radio broadcaster in Orlando, FL, O’Neal, 54, skipped getting vaccinated last fall, and sure enough, in February she got sick. “I started feeling pressure in my head, like a sinus thing,’’ she says. “My energy level really went down. The body aches were awful.’’ It lasted 10 days, disrupting her life and causing her to miss work. “I felt like a truck ran over me.’’
Then, in May, she was hit again. The second round was not as severe but still lasted for a week. Again, she had to miss work and other obligations. O’Neal, who has asthma, says she is lucky she didn’t have to be hospitalized but she got another reminder of the importance of immunization: “I passed the flu on to my sister, who has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), who then passed it on to her daughter,’’ she says. “I started to realize my health decisions can impact others.’’
Help protect yourself
Annual vaccination is “the best way to help protect against the flu, and to reduce the risk of severe complications that can send you to the hospital,’’ says Brian Christman, MD, a volunteer spokeperson for the American Lung Association. “This is especially true for adults 50 years of age and older, who are more likely to have chronic health conditions that put them at higher risk,” he says. “The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says about 70 percent of people ages 50 to 64 have at least one chronic disease, such as asthma or other lung disease, diabetes or cardiovascular disease. Among those over 65, that jumps to over 85 percent.”
“Flu changed my life”
For Jim Piette, 66, of Moose Lake, MN, those numbers are not just statistics. He says getting the flu changed his life.
Piette was active, enjoying his retirement fishing, hanging out with his family, and pursuing his hobby as a woodworker. Then, February 2017, the flu hit. “Everything just hurt,’’ he says. “I laid around in the house for five weeks. You couldn’t even touch the hair on my head—it hurt. I struggled to eat because I struggled to breathe. I just coughed, and I ended up losing 35 pounds.’’ While he’s slowly becoming more active, Piette hasn’t been able to resume all of his usual activities. “Now, all I do is concentrate on breathing.’’
Piette, who has COPD, gets a flu shot every year. If he hadn’t, it could have been much worse. “Even if you get flu despite being vaccinated, your symptoms may be milder than they might have been,’’ says Dr. Christman. For those with chronic illnesses, such as asthma, COPD or other respiratory diseases, flu can exacerbate symptoms and can lead to pneumonia. Flu also can worsen symptoms of heart disease and diabetes. Several studies have found a greater risk of heart attack and stroke following a flu infection.
It’s a powerful reminder of the serious impact of flu, especially among adults 50 years of age and older, who suffered high flu-related hospitalization rates in the 2017-2018 flu season, second only to adults 65 years of age and older. Among hospitalized adults, the CDC says, 92.4 percent reported having at least one underlying condition that put them at high risk for complications.
Sanofi partners with the American Lung Association to raise awareness on flu and its dangers
That’s why the American Lung Association, in collaboration with Sanofi, has launched the MyShot campaign to help educate adults 50 years of age and older about the potential dangers of flu and the critical importance of getting a flu shot every year. Annual vaccination is necessary because the body’s immune response from vaccination wanes over time, and the circulating flu viruses and vaccine formulation change every year.
The heightened risk for those who may be especially vulnerable—including babies, young children, pregnant women and older adults—is one reason to make sure caregivers and everyone in the family, ages 6 months and older (with rare exception), gets vaccinated each year, says Dr. Christman. “Along with getting the flu shot, it’s important to follow other good health habits—covering your cough with your elbow, washing your hands frequently, and staying home when you’re sick.’’
O’Neal says she’ll now get a flu shot every year, faithfully. “I had never had the flu before, and my eyes have been opened,’’ she says. “I never want to go through that again.’’
If you or someone you love is 50 years of age or older, go to GetMyShot.org to learn more, and speak with your healthcare provider about flu vaccine options that may be right for you.