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Protect Yourself & Your Family Against the Flu

Family playing in snowFlu activity this season started a bit later and has been lower so far than the previous three seasons, but activity is still on the upswing and expected to continue for several weeks. Vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors' visits, and missed work and school due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations. If you have not gotten vaccinated yet this season, you should get vaccinated now— It's Not Too Late!

Healthy people can get very sick from the flu and spread it to friends and loved ones. Following are the most important steps to help protect your family against the flu this season.

Take 3 Steps to Fight Flu

The first and best way to protect against the flu is to get vaccinated every flu season.

  • Everyone 6 months of age and older is recommended to get vaccinated against the flu every year, with rare exceptions.
  • Flu vaccines made to protect against three different flu viruses (called "trivalent"; vaccines) are available this season. In addition, flu vaccines made to protect against four different flu viruses (called "quadrivalent"; vaccines) also are available.  It takes two weeks after vaccination for your body to build up antibodies to protect you from the viruses. With many more weeks of flu activity expected for this flu season, there is still time to get vaccinated if you haven't already done so. As long as flu viruses are circulating, vaccination can protect you against the flu.
  • Important reminder for parents and caregivers: Many children getting vaccinated against the flu for the first time will need 2 doses of flu vaccine to be protected. If a child has not received his/her first dose, get them vaccinated now. For those who have been vaccinated with one dose and are younger than 9 years, parents should check with the child's doctor or other health care professional to see if a second dose is needed for the best possible protection.
  • CDC does not recommend one flu vaccine over the other. The important thing is to get vaccinated every year.
  • Preliminary overall influenza vaccine effectiveness (VE) is nearly 60 percent this season. This finding is comparable to past estimates for seasons when most circulating flu viruses have been similar to the seasonal flu vaccine. While flu vaccine effectiveness can vary, CDC recommends an annual flu vaccine as the best way to prevent seasonal flu.

Take every day preventative actions to stop the spread of germs.

  • If possible, try to avoid close contact with sick people. If you do get sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them. Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. Also, clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth because germs spread this way. Cover mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.

  • If you get sick with the flu, antiviral drugs can be used to treat your illness. CDC recommends rapid treatment of seriously ill and high risk suspect flu patients with influenza antiviral drugs. Early treatment with antivirals can be lifesaving, especially for people at high risk for flu complications. People who are at high risk for influenza complications should contact a health care professional promptly if they get flu symptoms, even if they have been vaccinated this season.
Grandfather with granddaughter on shoulders

Some people are at greater risk for flu complications, like young children and adults 65 years and older.

Who Is at Risk?

Everyone is at risk for getting the flu. For millions of people each year, the flu can cause a fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, headache, chills and fatigue. But for some people, the flu can be more severe. You may not realize that the flu also leads to more than 200,000 flu-related hospitalizations per year and can be deadly. Between 1976 and 2007, CDC estimates that annual flu-associated deaths in the United States ranged from a low of about 3,000 people to a high of about 49,000 people.

Some people are at greater risk for serious flu-related complications like pneumonia or worsening of existing chronic health conditions. For those at greater risk for complications, it's especially important to get vaccinated every season. It's also important for those people to check with a doctor promptly about taking antivirals if flu symptoms develop. Some of the groups at greater risk include:

And people who have medical conditions including:

  • Asthma
  • Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions [including disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerve, and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy (seizure disorders), stroke, intellectual disability (mental retardation), moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injury].
  • Chronic lung disease (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] and cystic fibrosis)
  • Heart disease (such as congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease)
  • Blood disorders (such as sickle cell disease)
  • Endocrine disorders (such as diabetes mellitus)
  • Kidney disorders
  • Liver disorders
  • Metabolic disorders (such as inherited metabolic disorders and mitochondrial disorders)
  • Weakened immune system due to disease or medication (such as people with HIV or AIDS, or cancer, or those on chronic steroids)
  • People younger than 19 years of age who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy
  • People who are morbidly obese (Body Mass Index, or BMI, of 40 or greater)

It is important to get vaccinated if you care for anyone in these high risk groups, including babies younger than 6 months because they are too young to get vaccinated. Remember, it's not too late to protect yourself and loved ones from the flu by getting vaccinated. The short time it will take to get a flu vaccine is much less than the time it will take you to recover from the flu.

For more information about the seriousness of the flu and the benefits of the flu vaccine, talk to your family's doctor or visit the CDC Flu Website.

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