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Posted: November 18, 2008

Go Figure: With Many Excuses, Nearly Half of Adults Won't Get Flu Shots

Despite the fact that it's the best prevention against the flu, just 52% of Americans say they plan to get a flu shot this year, according to a survey by Consumer Reports Health. 

The survey uncovered a long list of excuses for not getting the vaccine, including 5% of people who say they would rather get sick than go to work. 

The vaccine is available for free for many and at nominal cost for others, and requires very little time. Sixty-five percent of those who have already been vaccinated reported no out-of-pocket expense for the vaccine. 

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More than two thirds (67%) of those asked said it was better to build your own natural immunities. 

"There is no evidence that people who get flu shots have lower natural immunities or that people who don't get flu shots have higher immunities," said Dr. John Santa, director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center. 

Those surveyed cited the following other reasons for not getting the vaccine: They do not get sick, they have themselves or know someone who has gotten sick from the vaccine, or they believe the vaccine is ineffective. 

Other consumers not planning to get a flu vaccination said that they were worried about side effects, medication is now available to treat the flu, they don't like getting shots, or they don't like going to the doctor. And some even said that they'd rather get sick than go to work. 

"Sounds like a lot of excuses and misconceptions to avoid a quick and inexpensive, if not free, shot," said Santa. 

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that, in milder cases, can make people sick for several days, and at times can lead to death. Nearly all adults who responded to the Consumer Reports survey reported that they have had the flu. 

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized each year from flu complications, and about 36,000 people die from flu. Older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions are at high risk for serious flu complications. 

"Despite the prevalence and potential seriousness of the flu, we found that many adults are surprisingly misinformed about both the flu and flu vaccination," said Santa. "People need to know that getting a flu vaccination every year is the best way to prevent the flu. The vaccine will not make them sick or give them the flu. Without it, they and their families are at higher risk for getting the flu. If they get the flu they may transmit it to vulnerable people for whom the consequences may be serious." 

Fewer than half of those surveyed by CR knew that the government recommends that everyone over 6 months old get vaccinated against the flu. 

Dealing with the flu season 

CR found that adults go to varying extremes to avoid getting sick during the cold or flu season. Most adults wash their hands more frequently and eat healthy. Many also employ more extreme measures, such as using paper towels to open bathroom doors, avoiding large crowds, avoiding travel on planes, trains, or buses, or even avoiding shaking hands. 

The survey results also showed that men are more likely than women to drag themselves to work while battling common illness. The symptoms that are much more likely to keep women home than men include fever, diarrhea, nausea, and severe cough. 

"People really should stay home when they're sick," Santa said. "Not only is it important for them to rest and reduce their stress, but it's also important for them not to spread the disease at their workplaces." 

Santa also noted that antiviral drugs can shorten the duration of flu symptoms. It's best for people to see their doctors because the most effective drugs are the newest ones, while the older drugs have lost their effectiveness due to resistance. 

What else can consumers do? 

In addition to getting an annual flu shot, health experts recommend the following additional precautions to protect against flu: 

• Wash hands. That step, as well as using disinfectant wipes on telephone and computer keyboards, can prevent the transfer of viruses. 

• Avoid close contact with sick people. Help protect other people as well, by covering coughs and sneezes. 

• Get plenty of sleep. Eating well, exercising regularly, and reducing stress may also bolster immunity. 

• People who smoke should quit. Smokers are vulnerable to the flu and its complications. 

• Don't rely on herbs or supplements. None has proved to be effective at preventing the flu -- not even popular products such as Echinacea, ginseng, or the homeopathic remedy Oscillococcinum. 

(Article courtesy of

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