Every year, the flu sweeps across the nation. No hard and fast number exists for how many people get the flu each year, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that number could run as high as 49 million cases annually. The general recommendation from the medical community at large is for everyone to get a flu vaccine shot each year. If you depend on Medicare insurance for health care, you’re probably curious if it covers flu shots. Before we jump into coverage questions, though, let’s take a look at the flu itself.

What Is the Flu?

The flu is the common name given to the influenza virus. The influenza virus causes a particularly virulent and infectious respiratory illness that mainly affects the lungs, as well as your nose and throat. You can contract the flu through touch. For example, picking up something touched by someone in the infection stage can expose you. You can also inhale the virus if someone infectious sneezes or coughs near you. Even talking with someone infectious can be enough to pick up the virus.

It’s important to realize that the influenza virus mutates over time. The flu virus that everyone got last year won’t be the exact same virus that people catch this year. So, even if you didn’t get the flu or got over the flu in past years, you’re still at high risk for contracting it every year.

Flu Symptoms

The flu has a number of predictable and unpleasant symptoms. A few of the more common symptoms include:

• Fever
• Muscle aches
• Chills
• Sweating
• Sore throat and coughing
• Congestion
• Fatigue

For healthy adults, these symptoms routinely resolve themselves in about a week.

The flu poses a more potent risk to the young, elderly, or anyone with a compromised immune system. For anyone in those groups, the flu can potentially prove a life-threatening condition through complications. For example, it can lead to pneumonia or heart problems. These conditions can require inpatient treatment at a hospital.

Flu Prevention

The flu vaccination shot is the main preventive measure available to the general public. The classic flu shot is called a trivalent vaccine. That means it offers you protection against three common strains of the flu virus. Specifically, it protects you from two influenza A strains (H1N1 and H3N2) and one influenza B strain. You can also find quadrivalent vaccines that offer protection from an extra influenza B strain.

Following good hygiene routines, such as washing your hands regularly, can also improve your odds of avoiding the flu.

Medicare Coverage for Flu Shots

Medicare insurance does provide coverage for your annual flu shot. It’s normally covered under Medicare Part B, the portion of Medicare tasked with preventive care and other outpatient services. Part B will cover the entire cost for your flu shot once per flu season. Most people get their flu during the fall before the flu season reaches its peak sometime between December and February.

For healthy adults, the flu typically means a week of unpleasantness. For the very young and elderly, however, flu complications can turn very serious and even deadly. Doctors make strong recommendations that you get a flu vaccine shot every year. For individuals over 65 or under the age of 65 with certain disabilities, Medicare Part B coverage will provide coverage for your flu shot each year.

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