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Hurry up! Get your flu shot

Here's why you should consider getting the flu vaccine if you haven't yet.

Today's guest blogger is Anna Baldino, DO, medical director at Independence Blue Cross and a pediatrician.

The flu vaccination prevented an estimated 5 million flu-associated illnesses and 71,000 flu hospitalizations in 2015, yet only two out of five people in the United States reported getting a flu vaccine this year as of late 2016, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One specific demographic where we are seeing fewer vaccinations is among pregnant women, which is concerning as the flu and its complications can endanger both the mother and her baby. While new findings published in the December 9, 2016 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report show that flu vaccine coverage during pregnancy has increased in recent years, the number of pregnant women receiving the flu shot is still well below target goals.  In fact, more than half of pregnant women are still unvaccinated.

Although reasons may vary as to why so many have yet to receive the flu vaccination, one reason may be that people are feeling less vulnerable because of the low overall flu activity in recent years. Other reasons are generally attributed to misconceptions surrounding the vaccine, such as:

The flu shot can give you the flu.

This is a myth. The flu vaccine cannot give you the flu because the virus it contains is inactive.

If you got the flu vaccine last year, you don't need one this year.

Not true. You need a flu shot every year as the viral strains change and the vaccine weakens.

It's too late to get a flu shot.

This is false. As long as flu viruses are circulating, it's not too late to get vaccinated. While seasonal flu outbreaks can happen as early as October, activity usually peaks between December and February and can last through May.

While these are some of the common misconceptions, it's important to understand the many health benefits associated with getting the flu vaccination too — especially for young children and woman who are pregnant.

Protect & Prevent.

The best way to protect children from the flu is to get them vaccinated each year. Starting at age 6 months and older, all children and adults should be vaccinated yearly.

Decrease Risk for Serious Illness.

Children with chronic health issues such as asthma, diabetes and disorders of the brain or nervous system, are at high risk of serious flu complications. Getting a flu shot can lessen the risk.

Reduce Complications During Pregnancy.

Having the flu during pregnancy raises the risk for certain complications, including premature labor and delivery. Additionally, pregnant women experience changes in their immune system, heart and lungs, which make them more prone to severe illness from the flu. The flu vaccine can reduce these risks.

While getting a flu shot is very important, especially for pregnant women and young children, there are plenty of additional measures that can be taken to ensure they don't get sick. Things like having them use water bottles to avoid germ infested water fountains, carrying their own tissues to reduce the risk of picking up illnesses from the communal tissue boxes, applying hand sanitizer to kill germs and bacteria, getting plenty of rest, and eating vitamin-rich foods to make them less susceptible to catching viruses.

With this new information in mind, go out and get a flu shot if you haven't already, and be sure that you and your family are taking the necessary steps toward enjoying a healthy winter season.

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