If you have ever had the flu, you know it can knock you out—with members of your family, friends, and co-workers not far behind. This season, flu may pack more of a punch than usual because of the 2009 H1N1 flu virus (sometimes called “swine flu”). Many people do not have immunity to this virus, and more people than usual are likely to get sick from this virus and some will have severe illness, including some illnesses resulting in death. For this reason, it’s more important than ever to get your facts straight about flu—and the vaccines available to prevent flu.
2009 H1N1 has been the most common flu virus circulating so far this season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) encourages 2009 H1N1 vaccination for everyone who wishes to receive it, as soon as the initial group prioritized for this vaccine have had the chance to get vaccinated. The groups who are recommended to receive the 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine first include children and young adults aged 6 months through 24 years, pregnant women, people aged 25 through 64 years with certain underlying health conditions (such as asthma and diabetes), persons who live with or provide care for infants aged <6 months (e.g., parents, siblings, and daycare providers), and healthcare and emergency medical service personnel. Current studies indicate the risk for infection among persons age 65 or older is less than the risk for younger age groups. However, persons 65 and older who do get sick from 2009 H1N1 are at increased risk of complications. And, persons 65 and older who have symptoms of influenza should consult their health care provider.
As vaccine supply and demand for vaccine among initial target groups is met, programs and providers will offer vaccination to healthy persons 25-64 years of age and all persons 65 years and older.
People 10 years and older are recommended to receive one dose of the 2009 H1N1 vaccine, whereas children 6 months through 9 years of age will need two doses of the 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine to be fully protected. The 2009 H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccines are available as a shot (for people six months and older) or a nasal spray (for healthy people 2 years through 49 years of age who are not pregnant).
Millions of seasonal flu vaccines have been given safely, and millions of people have also safely received the 2009 H1N1 vaccine. Any side effects that have occurred since people started receiving the 2009 H1N1 vaccine have been similar to those experienced following seasonal influenza vaccine.
Flu vaccines are very safe and effective and closely monitored for any potential side effects. It’s important to realize that the flu vaccine cannot give you the flu. Why? Because the injected flu shot contains inactivated (killed) viruses, and the nasal spray contains attenuated (weakened) viruses and cannot cause flu illness. If you get the flu soon after getting the flu vaccine, it means that you may have been exposed to the virus shortly before getting vaccinated or during the two-week period it takes the body to gain protection after getting vaccinated, or you are sick with a non-flu respiratory virus that has symptoms similar to those of the flu.
“People who do not get vaccinated are taking two risks: they are placing themselves at risk for the flu, including a potentially long and serious illness, and second, if they get sick, they are also placing their close contacts at risk for influenza,” says Dr. Anne Schuchat, Assistant Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service and CDC’s Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “2009 H1N1 flu can be especially serious for babies, children, young adults under 25, pregnant women, and people with certain chronic medical conditions who are at high risk of flu-related complications or death. 2009 H1N1 influenza is not a disease to be taken lightly.”
The 2009 H1N1 virus is thought to spread mostly from person to person in the respiratory droplets of coughs and sneezes of people who are sick with flu. You might also get sick by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching your eyes, mouth or nose. Wash your hands often with soap and water and avoid close contact with people who are sick to lessen your risk of getting influenza and other illnesses. And, if you do get sick, make sure to cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze to reduce your chances of giving your illness to someone else.
For people who are very sick from flu and are hospitalized or people who are sick with flu symptoms and are at increased risk for serious flu complications, antiviral drugs are available and can help make illness milder and shorten the time sick. For treatment, antiviral drugs work best if started within the first 2 days of symptoms, but may also be beneficial when started after 2 days for those that are very ill.
So fight the flu by following the CDC-recommended three-step approach: vaccination; everyday preventive actions and the correct use of antiviral drugs.
For more information, visit www.flu.gov, www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu, or call 1-800-CDC-INFO (800-232-4636).