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After Historic Flu Season: Vaccination Is Your Best Protection

(October 10, 2018)

Flu season has begun, and you may have seen the shocking news that the death toll from last year's flu season was the worst in 40 years. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that the 2017-18 flu season caused approximately 80,000 deaths in the U.S. To compound matters, vaccination rates actually declined by more than 1 percent, according to the U.S. Surgeon General. All of this highlights the importance of vaccination this flu season.

The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get an annual influenza vaccination, and the American Lung Association agrees that vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and reduce spread of the flu.

Influenza, or the flu, is a serious and contagious respiratory illness. Each year, approximately 5 to 20 percent of U.S. residents get the flu—or 16 to 63 million people. Depending on the flu virus' severity during the influenza season, deaths as a result of flu complications (such as pneumonia) can range from 3,000 to more than 40,000 people, but last year told us that the number can be much higher.

Flu season begins as early as October, usually peaks between December and February, but may not end until as late as May. The seasonal flu vaccine is effective for about six months, so it's recommended that you get vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available.

Here are three ways you can fight the flu:

1. Get vaccinated now (if you haven't already)

Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself and those around you from the flu. Get the facts about flu shots. Pneumonia can be a deadly complication related to the flu. Talk to your doctor about whether you should also consider getting vaccinated for pneumonia.

Vaccination against influenza is especially important for pregnant women, people 50 years of age and older, and those with chronic health conditions, including asthma and COPD, as they are at a higher risk of developing influenza-related complications. Parents should be aware that the CDC recommends children 6 months through 8 years of age receiving a flu shot for the first time receive two doses approximately one month apart for optimal protection. Parents and their children should be immunized as soon as the vaccine is available in their area, and not wait until later in the flu season.

Here's one more reason to get vaccinated: New research has revealed that even if the flu vaccine doesn’t prevent you from getting the flu, it can reduce the severity of the disease. This means, if you get sick, you won’t be as sick as you would be if you skipped vaccination.

Note on FluMist: FluMist is a nasal spray that was not recommended by the CDC the past two years, but a reformulated FluMist has been recommended again this year, although The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends using the injectable flu vaccine as the first choice to protect children, and the nasal mist as a second choice.

To find a flu vaccine near you, visit the Flu Vaccine Finder.

2. Get prompt medical attention if you develop flu symptoms

Flu symptoms often appear suddenly. People at higher risk of complications, such as those with chronic lung disease, should seek prompt medical attention. Treatment may include antiviral medicine which can reduce flu symptoms if started within a day or two of getting sick. Symptoms of influenza can include:

  • High fever
  • Headache, muscle aches and joint pain
  • Cough (usually dry)
  • Chills
  • Sore throat
  • Nasal congestion and runny nose
  • Fatigue

Learn more about diagnosing and treating the flu.

3. Help stop the spread of the flu

Help prevent other people from catching your flu. Always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow when coughing or sneezing. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and warm water; avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth; and clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu. Stay home from work, school and public places when you are sick. Most people recover from the flu within one or two weeks, but others, especially older adults, may feel weak for a long time even after other symptoms go away.

Learn more about protecting yourself and loved ones this flu season.

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