Flu season officially begins Oct. 1, and public health officials nationwide are working hard to spread the word that there will be an all-time high supply of vaccine this year so more people than ever will be able to seek protection from the flu.
Flu shots are either now or will be available at many doctor’s offices, medical clinics, hospitals, pharmacies and health departments.
According to the National Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 5 to 20 percent of Americans will come down with the flu between Oct. 1 and May 1 — some 200,000 nationwide will be hospitalized as a result, and 36,000 will die.
The agency offers these tips to protect yourself and others from the flu:
• Cover your mouth and nose
• Clean your hands
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth
• Avoid close contact with people who are already sick
• If you get sick, stay home
• If you feel sick, call your doctor
• Maintain a healthy lifestyle
• Get a flu shot
The CDC website reveals that early flu vaccination should begin as soon as vaccine is available and continue throughout the influenza season, into December, January, and beyond. Influenza season most often peaks in February, but influenza viruses can continue to cause illness into the spring. For people not able to get their influenza vaccine in the fall, vaccination in December, January and beyond is beneficial in most years.
The protection (immunity) provided by the vaccine lasts about a year, so vaccination in August or September provides protection for the duration of the United States flu season, which can last until April or May. Getting vaccinated as soon as vaccine is available may be most important for children being vaccinated against flu for the first time, who need to get two doses of flu vaccine at least 4 weeks apart.
The flu vaccine protects against the three main flu strains that research indicates will cause the most illness during the flu season. This year’s influenza vaccine contains three new influenza virus strains.
In general, anyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting the flu can get vaccinated. However, it is recommended by CDC and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) that certain people should get vaccinated each year. Most of these people are recommended for vaccination because they are at high risk of having serious flu complications or they live with or care for people at high risk for serious complications.
People recommended for vaccination during the 2008-09 flu season are:
Children aged 6 months up to their 19th birthday
People 50 years of age and older
People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions
People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including:
Health care workers
Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu
Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated)
The Dallas County Health and Human Services Department begins offering flu shots to adults starting at 10 a.m. Monday at their office at 2377 North Stemmons Freeway, Suite 627A, in Dallas.
Call 214-819-2000 for more information.