FLU SEASON: Protect Others by Protecting Yourself

Karyn Whitemaine with her family, who all get flu shots every year to help protect her health, as well as their own.
Karyn Whitemaine with her family, who all get flu shots every year to help protect her health, as well as their own.

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Karyn Whitemaine became the recipient of a donated pancreas and kidney in 2005 when the type 1 diabetes she had contracted as a teenager started causing her kidneys to fail.

The donated organs fixed her kidneys, but she is still dealing with some health issues. People who receive organs from non-family members take immunosuppressive drugs to keep their immune systems from attacking the foreign object (donated organ). This means that organ recipients tend to be more vulnerable to any disease out there, whether that’s a cold, an infection or the flu.

This is partly why Whitemaine is required to get vaccinated against the flu every year, and pneumonia every five years. Though they’re not required to do so, her family members and friends also get vaccinated against the flu every fall.

“They know I’m vulnerable so they feel it’s their responsibility to do what they can to protect me,” she says. “If they get sick, they know they can get me sick. And a simple cold for them could turn into pneumonia for me.”

“This is one more reason to get vaccinated against the flu – to protect those around us who we could get sick without knowing it, or even experiencing symptoms ourselves,” said Immunize Nevada Executive Director Heidi Parker. “Getting vaccinated against the flu helps the person who receives the vaccine, but just as importantly, it helps to protect the people they come into contact with, including the elderly, small children and others who might have weak immune systems, like people who have cancer, HIV, type 1 diabetes or other health conditions.

If last year is any indication, you do not want to take a chance with this potentially deadly disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the 2017-2018 flu season wasn’t just bad, it was the worst we’ve seen in 40 years. An estimated 80,000 Americans died of flu and its complications last winter. That’s nearly twice as many as health officials had previously considered a bad year. At 185, more kids died during the 2017-2018 flu season than in any non-pandemic year on record, according to CDC data.

CDC numbers show that flu deaths were 10,000 higher than the estimated number of people who died from drug overdoses and almost double the number of those estimated to die in vehicle crashes. In addition to that, an estimated 900,000 were hospitalized.

The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine every year, as early in the season as possible.

“This is not just a bad cold or a headache. Flu can, and does, kill. And years of research have shown that the vaccine is the most effective way to protect ourselves and others,” Parker said. “The flu vaccine can literally save your life or the life of someone you love.”

Nevada has many options for no-cost flu vaccinations, many of which can be found at immunizenevada.org/flu/flu-vaccine-locations, which allows Nevadans to input their zip code, generating a list of locations nearby offering the flu vaccine.

Immunize Nevada is widely recognized as Nevada’s trusted resource for immunizations and community health for all ages by fostering education and statewide collaboration. For more information, visit www.immunizenevada.org.

Donor Network West is a federally designated nonprofit organ procurement and tissue recovery organization, serving more than 13 million people by connecting a donor’s gift to those in need in their service area of 40 counties in Northern California and Nevada. For more information, visit www.donornetworkwest.org.

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