Kristi Yamaguchi knows a thing or two about staying in fighting shape.
As a former Olympic figure skater, who won a gold medal, it was crucial that she remain fit and healthy to train and compete against other elite athletes.
That’s why she has teamed up with Faces of Influenza for the past five years to spread the word about the importance of getting an annual flu shot.
And she’s seen firsthand just what the flu can do to a person.
While Yamaguchi was still skating competitively, she watched one of her own peers succumb to the flu.
“A friend of mine missed competing at the Olympics because she was sick with the flu,” Yamaguchi said. “She couldn’t get out of bed that one day she was supposed to compete.”
Since then, Yamaguchi has been vigilant about protecting her health - especially since figure skating season coincides with flu season. She hasn’t missed a flu shot since she was 17.
“I get asked a lot when the last time was that I had the flu, and I honestly can’t remember,” said Yamaguchi, 40.
“I was a child – probably 10 or 11 – because I’ve been getting the flu shot for so long. But I remember how awful it is, and just being in bed, feeling lethargic and achy and feverish. It’s not something I want to feel again.”
Yamaguchi, who also won the sixth season of Dancing With the Stars, said the issue became even more important to her after she became a mother, in order to protect her own children from getting sick.
“Becoming a mom, I realized that I wanted to keep my family healthy, and that I’d do anything to protect them,” she said. “So you know, getting them immunized and everyone around them immunized every year was something that was natural.”
Faces of Influenza is a national educational awareness initiative of the American Lung Association in collaboration with Sanofi Pasteur. The goal of the campaign is to help educate the public about the seriousness of influenza and the importance of vaccination.
Influenza and its complications result in an estimated 226,000 hospitalizations in the U.S. each year. Depending on virus severity, deaths can range from 3,000 to 49,000 people.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that everyone over the age of 6 months get vaccinated every year. High-risk groups who are particularly susceptible to the illness include children under 5, pregnant women, people with chronic illnesses and seniors over age 50.
Yamaguchi said she hopes her efforts will increase the rates of people who get vaccinated every year.
According to Dr. Norman Edelman, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association, more people are getting the shot now that there is more awareness – but it’s still not enough.
“There are still large numbers of people who should be vaccinated, but who are not vaccinated, including people at high risk of the flu,” Edelman said. “We’re especially concerned about those high-risk groups, because for them the complications of flu are quite serious.”
The best time to get vaccinated each year is when new vaccine becomes available, which is now in most communities, Edelman advised.
“It’s important to know it only takes two weeks for the vaccine to take effect,” he said. “So if people haven’t gotten it by now, and flu comes to their community in February, there’s still time to get immunized and get protected against the flu.”