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The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The best way to prevent seasonal flu is by getting a seasonal flu vaccination each year.
Every year in the United States, on average:
Some people, such as older people, young children, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), are at increased risk for serious complications from seasonal flu illness.
This flu season, scientists believe that a new and very different flu virus (called novel 2009 H1N1) may cause a lot more people to get sick than during a regular flu season. It also may cause more hospital stays and deaths than regular seasonal flu. More information about the new H1N1 flu is available here.
Symptoms of seasonal flu include:
Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.
Flu viruses are thought to spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing of people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5-7 days after becoming sick. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.
The single best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get a seasonal flu vaccination each year. There are two types of flu vaccines:
About two weeks after vaccination, antibodies develop that protect against influenza virus infection. Flu vaccines will not protect against flu-like illnesses caused by non-influenza viruses.
Yearly seasonal flu vaccination should begin in September, or as soon as the seasonal flu vaccine is available, and continue throughout the flu season into December, January, and beyond. This is because the timing and duration of flu seasons vary. While seasonal flu outbreaks can happen as early as October, most of the time seasonal flu activity peaks in January or later. Information about when to get vaccinated with the new H1N1 flu vaccine can be found here.
In general, anyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting seasonal flu can get vaccinated. However, certain people should get vaccinated each year either because they are at high risk of having serious flu-related complications or because they live with or care for high risk persons. During flu seasons when vaccine supplies are limited or delayed, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) makes recommendations regarding priority groups for vaccination.
People who should get a seasonal flu vaccination each year include:
Information about who should get vaccinated against the new 2009 H1N1 flu, including the ACIP recommendations for the new H1N1 flu vaccine can be found here.
Vaccination with the nasal-spray flu vaccine is an option for healthy* people 2-49 years of age who are not pregnant, even healthy persons who live with or care for those in a high risk group. The one exception is healthy persons who care for persons with severely weakened immune systems who require a protected environment; these healthy persons should get the inactivated flu vaccine. (A nasal spray vaccine against seasonal flu will not protect you against the new H1N1 flu. A vaccine against the 2009 H1N1 flu is available.)
Some people should not be vaccinated without first consulting a physician. They include:
If you have questions about whether you should get a flu vaccine, consult your health-care provider.
Courtesy of CDC.gov