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Flu season is upon us: Beginning in October and lasting into the new year, this season turns shared office spaces and classrooms into war zones. The flu easy to get — you contract it through the airborne particles from someone coughing or sneezing. Symptoms include fever, coughing and sometimes vomiting. Not pretty.
Getting the flu can mean more than missing a couple days of work. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that 200,000 Americans are hospitalized for the flu every year, and thousands die. Last year was one of the deadliest flu seasons, with around 80,000 flu-related deaths. Luckily, there’s a way to prevent getting the bug — by getting vaccinated every year.
The flu virus is always changing. Scientists predict which strains will be "popular" each year, and change the vaccine to counteract these strains. Though it’s not 100% effective, the flu shot increases your chances of not getting sick and lessens the severity of the illness if you get it.
In short — no. The vaccine itself is made up of an inactivated flu strain. It helps your body learn to protect itself against live flu, but can’t get you sick. You may feel mild symptoms as your body builds up its immune system, like body aches or a runny nose.
The CDC recommends getting vaccinated before the end of October. We compiled a list of where you can get a flu shot for free under most health insurance plans (if you choose to pay out-of-pocket, the cost is around $40).
If you have health insurance, your regular doctor will likely offer the flu shot at no cost to you. If you have a plan from the individual health insurance marketplace, you can get a flu shot without any copay. If you are over 65, Medicare Part B covers the cost of your flu shot, and most Medicaid participants are covered.
Bonus tip: Policygenius readers looking to save on prescription drugs can get $20 off their first fill with Blink Health, a free discount drug program.
If you can’t make it to your doctor, check your local prompt care center. Chances are, they have a stock of shots to give out. Make sure to call ahead just in case.
The flu doesn’t just affect you. It affects your work. The CDC Foundation reports that the flu costs the country an average of $10.4 billion a year in direct medical expenses and an additional $16.3 billion in lost earnings annually.
Many companies provide on-site flu shots during the workday, which are usually covered by your employer’s insurance as preventative care. Some companies also may offer vouchers for shots at local pharmacies. Check with your employer for more information.
If you’re a student, look for announcements from health services regarding an annual round of shots for all enrolled students. The close proximity students have with each other makes them especially exposed to the spread of the flu.
Large retail pharmacies like Walgreens, CVS Pharmacy and Rite Aid accept most types of insurance for a free flu shot. See if you can get a discount using your prescription drug discount card, if you have one. Sometimes participating pharmacies offer cardholders shots at a discount or no cost.
Several supermarket chains across the country offer free flu shots with most insurance plans, including Stop & Shop and Giant Foods. To find the closest flu shot provider near you, check out VaccineFinder.org.
If you don't have health insurance, there are ways to take care of yourself during flu season. Good hygiene plays a role in preventing the flu. Wash your hands throughout the day throughout the day and cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze to prevent the spread of gross flu germs.
If you do happen to contract the flu, please stay at home. Don't come into work. Please.
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