Tough economic times can make it harder to take care of your health. But there's one key step Buncombe County residents can take that costs nothing.
Young adults, in particular, may think they can handle anything, but H1N1 flu (sometimes called "swine flu") can still bring them down in a serious way. nationwide, H1N1 has hit young adults extremely hard this season. That's why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is urging everyone ages 19 to 24 to get the H1N1 vaccine.
Across the country, college students have been slammed by this new virus. Many have learned the hard way that being young doesn't mean you can't get sick from the flu. Individuals' reactions to the H1N1 virus have ranged from mild to severe. And though most people have recovered without needing medical treatment, hospitalizations and deaths have occurred due to flu infection, even in young, otherwise-healthy people. H1N1 flu is not a disease to be taken lightly.
The extent of H1N1 infection among young adults has been alarming. To date, the highest number of confirmed cases of H1N1 flu across the country have been among young adults, and about one-third of the people hospitalized with this virus were otherwise healthy. Despite these numbers, though, local surveys indicate that many young adults are not aware they're at high risk for H1N1 infection. Some perceive the publicity concerning the disease to be a lot of hype, and they may even believe that the vaccination poses a greater risk than the illness itself. But these attitudes contradict the reality of the situation: Young adults are getting sick from H1N1, and vaccination is the best defense against the illness.
But there's a lot more at stake than individuals' health. Since many young adults are regularly around a wide variety of people — including family members, friends, co-workers and fellow students — they're more likely to be exposed to this virus and expose others to it. This is the time of life when people begin to assume responsibility for their own health and well-being. Vaccination is important not only to protect yourself from flu and its potential complications, but also to protect those around you.
And if you think it's too late to worry about flu vaccine, think again. Doctors know that the flu season can last as late as May, so vaccination and everyday preventive actions such as washing hands continue to be important ways to take a stand against getting sick and becoming a carrier.
"Our young people are our greatest resource, and we want to make sure they remain healthy," emphasizes State Health Director Jeffrey Engel. "The peak of seasonal flu is approaching in late January. Getting both vaccinations now is the best way to protect yourself and your family against both seasonal and H1N1 flu." My own college-age son followed this advice and got vaccinated over the holidays.
Concerned about potential side effects? Rest assured that the H1N1 vaccine is produced the same way as seasonal flu vaccines, and millions of people across the country have safely received the H1N1 vaccine. Most side effects have been similar to those seen with the regular seasonal flu vaccine: soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given; headache, muscle aches, fever and nausea. If these problems do arise, it's usually soon after the vaccination, and they typically last one to two days.
And don't worry: You can't get the flu from the flu shot, because it contains inactivated (killed) viruses that cannot cause the illness. If someone you know got the flu soon after getting the vaccine, they were probably exposed to the virus shortly before getting vaccinated or during the two-week period it takes the body to gain protection after vaccination.
So get out there and get vaccinated! Remember, protecting yourself protects others too. And if you can't stand needles, no worries: The H1N1 flu vaccine comes in a nasal spray, too.
To schedule an appointment, contact your doctor or call the Buncombe County Health Department at 259-3000. It's free, and if you have an appointment, there's no waiting. So what are you waiting for?
For more information, visit www.flu.gov, www.cdc.gov/flu or call the Buncombe County flu hot line at 250-6400.
Gibbie Harris is director of the Buncombe County Health Department.
Vaccination is important not only to protect yourself from flu but also to protect those around you.