Flu can be a killer, but some refuse to take a shot

Latasha Haynes was 34 when she almost died of the flu last year. What started as a little coughing and fatigue ended with two blood transfusions and a diagnosis of congestive heart failure weeks later. Flu had damaged her heart muscles and the saclike tissue around them. She survived, but just barely, and it took her months to recover.

Haynes, who has a photography business in Tacoma, Washington, and came down with the flu in January 2017, was one of the estimated 30.9 million people who got the flu during the 2016-2017 season. She was one of the 14.5 million who saw a doctor because of the virus, and among the estimated 600,000 people hospitalized because of the flu – 50,000 of whom, like Haynes, were adults under 50.

The last flu season was even deadlier than the 2016 to 2017 season. In a recent report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said flu killed about 80,000 Americans in the 2017-2018 season, the most in decades. In other recent years death estimates have ranged from 12,000 to 56,000, according to the CDC. That compares with about 40,000 annual deaths from motor vehicle crashes.

Yet while nine in 10 people in the United States use seat belts, fewer than half get the flu vaccine – the most important way for everyone older than six months to protect against serious cases of the ailment, according to the CDC.

One of the biggest reasons people give for not getting the flu vaccine is that they don’t think it’s necessary. A Rand Corp. study of unvaccinated adults reported that roughly 1 in 4 of those surveyed said they didn’t get the flu shot because they didn’t think they needed it.

That was the case for Haynes. Before getting sick, she had never received a flu vaccine.

“It just wasn’t at the top of the list,” Haynes said. ” ‘I’m healthy. I’m young. Why would I need a flu shot? If I got the flu, I’d be able to fight it. It’s not that big of a deal.’ That was my attitude about it.”

This type of thinking, however, doesn’t take into account how deadly flu can be to healthy people, said Flor Munoz, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston.

“People who are healthy can get severe consequences from influenza,” said Munoz, citing a 2018 study in the journal Pediatrics that found that half of children who die of the flu have no underlying medical conditions.

Another reason people don’t get vaccinated is because they are more concerned about the vaccine than they are of the flu itself. Kari O’Driscoll, a mother of two in Washington state, said she doesn’t get the flu shot because she and her kids are healthy, and she doesn’t think they would suffer dramatic health effects if they got sick.

“I weighed that [risk from flu] against the thought of injecting them with something every single year that may or may not afford them immunity . . . and it didn’t seem worth it,” O’Driscoll wrote in an email.

Science, however, supports the safety and necessity of vaccinations.

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