Ebola fears have prompted much hand-wringing — and hand-washing — this fall, but the flu virus poses a much greater threat, health care providers say.
They remind us that the flu is airborne, while the Ebola virus is not.
And though both are deadly, flu is on the list of top 10 killers in the United States every year. In 2010, influenza and pneumonia killed almost 54,000 people. So far, Ebola has claimed only one life here.
All the more reason to get a flu shot, still considered the best defense against catching the virus.
Last year, only half of all Americans got a flu shot. This year, public health officials worry that Ebola news has drowned out messages about the importance of flu shots.
So they’re redoubling efforts to get the word out, issuing flu shot primers and reminders.
“We’re starting to see flu circulate,” said Jennifer Heath, immunization nurse specialist with the Minnesota Department of Health.
The latest flu update shows sporadic cases of the virus across the state, including two that required hospitalization.
“It’s time to get your flu shot for sure,” Heath said.
Some key points about flu prevention from state health officials and Health Partners:
• Everyone over the age of 6 months should get a flu shot or nasal mist once a year.
• Children younger than age 9 may need two doses of the vaccine to last them all season. Check with your doctor.
• The flu shot is 60 percent effective for those ages 19 to 64.
• New this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that children ages 2 through 8 get the nasal mist if it’s readily available. If not, the CDC advises people not to wait — go ahead with the shot.
• You can get a flu vaccine at many places — including your doctor’s office, retail pharmacies and work site/community flu vaccine clinics.
• To find one near you, go to the vaccination clinic finder through the Minnesota Department of Health’s website at www.mdhflu.com
• The very young and the very old remain the most vulnerable to flu, along with those with chronic diseases. American Indians and Alaskan Natives also are at greater risk for the flu.
With grim news of Ebola deaths overseas dominating the airwaves this fall, it’s easy to overlook the flu’s threat. But, as New York City officials advised in the midst of the city’s first Ebola case: keep calm and get your flu shot.