Here's a more productive way to stay healthy this fall than worrying abut the incredibly unlikely event of an American Ebola outbreak: Get a flu shot.
It's cheap, its inexpensive, and it will help safeguard you against a disease that kills thousands of people each year. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that all Americans older than 6 months get vaccinated annually. Unless you are a particularly precocious 5-month-old, this includes you.
Why should I get the flu vaccine?
To protect yourself and those around you.
Let's say you're a selfish person (we're not judging). The best reason to get a flu shot is to protect yourself against the upcoming flu season. The flu can be deadly; in 2004, an especially vicious outbreak killed more than 48,000 people in the US. Not every flu season is this bad. Others have killed as few as 3,000 people. But it's really hard to predict in advance how bad each flu season will be and a flu shot is a relatively cheap and easy way to hedge your bet against a bad season.
If you care any bit about those around you, there's an even more compelling case for vaccination. Vaccines work best when lots and lots of people are immunized. This is a concept known in science as "herd immunity," something that pediatrician Aaron Carroll explains incredibly well in the video below.
If a small number of people are vaccinated, that's a bit of a roadblock for the disease — but likely not an insurmountable one. There are still lots of unprotected people susceptible to the sickness. And the handful of people who are immunized aren't entirely safe, either. Vaccines do significantly reduce the risk of getting sick, but they aren't bulletproof. The flu vaccine, for example, was estimated to have a 61 percent success rate this year at blocking disease.
If vaccines are going to work, they rely heavily "on the decreased likelihood that anyone will come into contact with the disease," Carroll says.
When you get vaccinated, it makes it harder for other people you come into contact with to catch the flu. This is important if you ever interact with the elderly, whose weaker immune systems aren't as able to fight off the infection. In other words: if you love your grandparents, get a flu shot.
Why shouldn't I get a flu vaccine?
That's a trick question: you should! But 58 percent of American adults don't, according to the most recent figures. Flu is a disease with some of the lowest vaccination rates. While lots of other vaccinations are required for kids to go to school, the flu has no similar nudge.
One 2011 survey found they have a lot of excuses. About three in ten Americans say they don't need a flu shot. Another 16 percent just don't get around to it.
Let's go through a few of the excuses.
I don't need it: The CDC thinks otherwise, and recommends the flu vaccine for all adults. Whether or not you caught the flu last year says nothing about your susceptibility this season. And, as mentioned earlier, the flu vaccine isn't just about you: more vaccinated people means more protection for everyone around you.
I didn't get around to it: Yes, we're all busy. But flu shots are one of the easiest medical treatments to obtain. Walgreen's, CVS, and other major pharmacy chains offer flu shots. In New York City, you can even order a flu vaccine straight to your home or office for $25.
I might get sick/suffer side effects: First off, the flu shot cannot cause the flu. That is a myth: the flu vaccine contains an inactive version of the virus, meaning that it's impossible to become infected. What it can cause is soreness at the site of injection, aches and, in some cases, a low-grade fever. These are relatively minor side effects compared to the flu, which kills thousands of people each year.
I dislike needles: Good news! There's a nasal flu vaccine. And the CDC says the nasal vaccine is just as good as the version that involves a needle.
Where can I get a flu shot?
Most drugstores or doctor offices can administer flu shots. To find a location near you, use HealthMap's vaccine finder tool. Most health insurance covers the complete cost of a flu shot but, for the uninsured, HealthMap provides price data too (Costco, which charges $14.99 for a flu shot, seems to have the cheapest price but CVS does offer a 20-percent-off-the-entire-store coupon upon vaccination, if you really want to live large). So find a location, and get vaccinated. There is no good reason not to.