InFLUenza is a contagious, respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can be mild, but in its severe form can lead to death. Older adults, young children and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year.
Last year (the 2009-2010 flu season), a new and very different flu virus called 2009 H1N1 spread worldwide causing the first flu pandemic in more than 40 years. During this flu season, experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expect the H1N1 virus to cause illness again. However, unlike the vaccine available last year, the 2010-2011 flu vaccine specifically protects against the H1N1 virus and two additional influenza viruses.
The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted to expand influenza vaccination recommendations for the 2010-2011 flu season to include all persons 6 months of age and older who do not have a contraindication to the vaccine. The recommendations are intended to remove barriers to flu immunization, such as the need to determine whether each person has a specific indication for vaccination and protect as many people as possible against the dangers of the flu.
The CDC recommends taking the following three steps to protect yourself and others from the seasonal flu:
1. Take time to get a flu vaccine.
- The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses.
- The 2010-2011 flu vaccine will protect against the influenza A H3N2 virus, the influenza B virus and the H1N1 virus that caused so much illness last season.
- Everyone 6 months of age and older should get vaccinated against the flu as soon as the 2010-2011 season vaccine is available.
2. Take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Disinfect frequently touched household surfaces with a solution of ¼ cup chlorine bleach in 1 gallon of water.
3. Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.
Antiviral drugs can make illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They may also prevent serious flu complications.
There were 12,000 deaths from influenza last year. Many of those could have been prevented by receiving a flu shot. Getting a flu shot not only protects individuals it protects entire communities. The more people who are immunized the fewer cases of flu and the less likely it is for the disease to spread throughout the community. Taking the precautions described above will reduce the risk of spreading the flu and is much less costly than the medical and personal costs associated with an extended illness.
(Chris Wiant, M.P.H., Ph.D., is president and CEO of the Caring for Colorado Foundation. He is also chair of the Water Quality & Health Council.)