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Flu Facts: Q&A with Dr. Michael Jaeger

You don’t have to be very observant to know there’s some “gunk” going around in offices throughout the state. Cold and flu season is here. Even the Green Bay Packers locker room was reported to have a “bug” going through it prior to the NFC Championship game against Atlanta. If big, tough guys like the Packers can’t avoid the flu, what hope do the rest of us have?

The flu costs our country approximately $5.8 billion in health care costs and lost productivity, so we all have a lot to gain by taking proactive steps against it.

To learn more about the current flu season and separate some flu-facts from flu-fiction, I talked to Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield’s senior clinical officer, Dr. Michael Jaeger. What follows is a summary of our discussion.

Nobile: It seems like everyone is sick. Is flu season at its peak?

Jaeger: It’s too early to know if we’ve hit the peak of flu season, although the indications are that we probably have not.

Wisconsin hasn’t been hit by the flu as hard as some other states, but it would be naive to think that we can somehow avoid it. In fact, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services data shows that influenza-like illness activity is already high in northcentral and northwestern Wisconsin. Last time I checked, illnesses don’t stay within county lines, so we should all consider ourselves warned.

Nobile: Sure, but isn’t cold and flu season just a fact of life?

Jaeger: It’s true that we can’t prevent all cases of the flu, but that doesn’t mean we should do nothing. What many people forget is that the flu is a serious illness.

Since this year’s flu season began in October, eight children across the country have died from the virus, with two dying during the week of Jan. 8 alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

CDC data also shows that hospitalizations related to the flu are also on the rise, with 2017 rates more than triple last year’s rate.

Nobile: And those hospitalizations aren’t cheap…

Jaeger: No, they are not, and even if your business isn’t bearing those costs directly, you’re still affected by lost productivity and absenteeism.

Nobile: So what do business leaders need to know?

Jaeger: One of the most important things to know is that it’s not too late to protect yourself, your loved ones and your coworkers by getting a flu shot.

While every flu season is different, last year illnesses didn’t peak until early March. So there’s still plenty of reason to get one.

Nobile: Wait, I thought you had to get your flu shot in the fall, before flu season. Is that not right?

Jaeger: That’s the best time to do it, but there is no cutoff date for when you can get the flu shot. It generally takes about two weeks for the body to develop protective antibodies after vaccination, so the sooner you get your flu shot the better.

Nobile: Who should get the flu shot?

Jaeger: The CDC recommends that everyone six months and older get the flu vaccine annually. The flu shot greatly reduces your chances of getting the flu and can reduce the severity of your illness if you do. It’s proven to prevent flu-related hospitalizations for both the recipient and their loved ones with weaker immune systems, such as young children and the elderly.

Nobile: Is the flu shot expensive?

Jaeger: No. It’s not only quite affordable, but is also covered by most health insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, when it’s administered at your doctor’s office.

Nobile: A lot of people say: “I got the flu shot last year, I don’t need to get it again.” Is that right?

Jaeger: No. That’s a common misconception. Viruses change and immunity decreases over time so an annual vaccination is needed to provide the best possible protection against influenza.

Nobile: In addition to the flu shot, what can we all do to protect ourselves during cold and flu season?

Jaeger: It’s not flashy or new, but good hygiene continues to be the best way to avoid illnesses.

Washing your hands with soap and water, getting plenty of sleep, being physically active, managing stress, drinking plenty of liquids, and eating nutritious foods are still some of the best things you can do. You should also avoid close contact with sick people and keep your hands away from your face and mouth to avoid transferring viruses into your body.

Anyone with flu symptoms should contact their doctor to determine if antiviral treatment would assist in their recovery. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines that fight against the flu in your body. According to a CDC study, early treatment could cut the duration of a hospital stay for older adults and reduce their risk of needing extended care after discharge.

Remember, some years the flu season doesn’t end until late May. While getting a shot is never fun, it’s nothing compared to the misery of getting the flu and spreading it to your loved ones.

 

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Nobile is a 20-year veteran of the insurance industry whose experience includes time with Rush Prudential Health Plans, Aetna, and United Healthcare. Prior to joining Anthem, Nobile served as the Director of Sales and Account Management for the Midwest region at UniCare, a health benefits company based in Chicago and owned by Anthem’s parent company and also ran UniCare’s Eastern Region with offices.

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