The $10.4 billion cost of the flu on the US economy

There’s something even scarier than Halloween ghosts and goblins lurking around the corner: The flu.

Every year around this time, the ever-evolving influenza virus begins descending upon the Northern Hemisphere, bringing misery to the millions of Americans who end up suffering from it.

On top of the wretched physical symptoms it causes — including fever, chills, muscle aches, cough and fatigue — the cost of getting the flu is generally greater than a dose of prevention.

Yet most people apparently don’t mind the risk. In the 2015-2016 flu season, just 43.3 percent of U.S. adults got the flu vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For those under age 18, the rate was 59 percent. (Click on CDC chart below to enlarge.)

At the same time, an estimated 24.5 million were stricken with the flu, resulting in 11 million medical visits, 308,000 hospitalizations and 12,000 deaths.

The financial impact? An estimated annual $10.4 billion in direct costs for hospitalizations and outpatient visits for adults.

“Getting the flu shot should be a no-brainer,” said certified financial planner Chris Chen, wealth strategist with Insight Financial Strategists in Waltham, Massachusetts. “The low or free cost of the shot is one of the great deals of everyday living, given what it can cost if you get the flu.”

In the 2015-2016 flu season, the CDC estimates that the flu vaccine prevented about 5.1 illnesses, 2.5 million flu-induced medical visits and 71,000 hospitalizations. (Click on graphic to enlarge.)

While some people use the term “flu” to describe just about any illness, influenza is a contagious respiratory illness that can cause mild to severe illnesses, sometimes resulting in hospitalization or even death. Some people are more likely to get severely sick from it, including older Americans, children under age 5, people with certain long-term health conditions and pregnant women.

For anyone with health insurance, the flu shot is typically free due to Obamacare, regardless of whether you get it at your doctor’s office or in another setting. However, some plans might only allow you to get the shot at specific locations so it’s worth checking first with the pharmacy or your insurer.

The larger pharmacies — i.e., Walgreens, CVS, Walmart Pharmacy — accept most insurance plans. Without coverage, the retail price of the shot depends on your age and recommended vaccine formulation.

At Walgreens, for instance, a shot that most adults and children would get runs $31.99 if you have no insurance. The price for the shot recommended for people age 65 and older is generally $59.99.

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