By Nicholas Rupp, Salt Lake County Health Department Communications Coordinator
When it comes to health, teens and preteens often feel invincible. They’re too young to be concerned about most age-related ailments, and they’re old enough to not worry as much about childhood illnesses. But this sense of invincibility is—like so many things in youth—false. Teens and preteens still need to be current on recommended immunizations, and that includes a yearly flu vaccine.
This flu season, one of the virus strains circulating is the H1N1 flu virus responsible for the 2009 influenza pandemic. H1N1 is unusual among flu strains because it tends to affect otherwise healthy people—like teens and preteens. In Salt Lake County, the flu season started out a little slower than usual, with the number of people hospitalized lower than average throughout fall and into the holiday season. But since 2016 began, Salt Lake County Health Department epidemiologists (scientists who track the spread of disease in a community) have seen a significant increase in people seriously affected by the flu—and sadly, two people have even died.
In addition to protecting yourself, getting a flu shot is important for protecting the people around you. For example, infants under six months old cannot receive a flu vaccine so it’s important everyone around them be vaccinated so the baby is protected. It’s also important to get a vaccine to protect people with health problems and older people, over age 65, because our immune systems become less robust as we age; those groups are more susceptible to serious complications from the flu.
Contrary to popular belief, the “flu” is not a stomach illness and it does not generally cause nausea or vomiting. Influenza, the virus that causes the flu, infects the nose, throat, and lungs, making the “flu” actually like a really, really bad cold. It also makes you extremely weak, achy, and tired, so much that people with the flu often cannot physically get out of bed. These symptoms can last a couple weeks.
It’s not too late to get your flu vaccine for this season; there will be serious cases of flu circulating in our community until April. You can get a flu vaccine from many places in Salt Lake County: your health care provider, most local pharmacies, or any Salt Lake County Health Department Clinic. To make an appointment at the health department, call 385-468-SHOT (7468). Most insurance companies cover the cost of the seasonal flu vaccine, but if you do not have insurance, this year the health department has free flu shots available for you.
For more information about the flu vaccine, visit the CDC or the Salt Lake County Health Department immunization program.