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Thursday, December 3, 2015

Get vaccinated now to be ready for peak flu season

Health officials urge flu vaccination during National Influenza Vaccination Week

Influenza activity in Minnesota has been low so far, but there is a lot of flu season left. Health officials want Minnesotans to get their flu vaccine now so they are protected when flu activity increases.

National Influenza Vaccination Week (NIVW) is Dec. 6-12. The week-long emphasis on flu vaccination highlights the importance of continuing flu vaccination throughout the flu season, which can go through April or May. NIVW is an opportunity for public health professionals, health care professionals, health advocates, communities, and families from across the country to work together to promote flu vaccination before the traditional winter peak in flu activity.

"The only thing predictable about flu is that it's unpredictable," said Kris Ehresmann, director of infectious disease at the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). "We don't know ahead of time whether a season will be mild or severe, but getting vaccinated now will give you protection no matter what comes."

Everyone 6 months of age and older should get flu vaccine every year unless they cannot for medical reasons. It is especially important for those at high risk for serious complications from flu to get vaccinated. These include pregnant women, seniors, young children and people with long-term health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease and more. Vaccination of household contacts and anyone else who has contact with these high risk groups is also important for limiting the spread of flu in a community. 

In past flu seasons, up to 80 percent of adults hospitalized from flu complications had a long-term health condition, as did about 50 percent of hospitalized children. The flu can make these health conditions worse, even if they are under control.

Ehresmann noted that flu vaccination rates among people with long-term health conditions are not as high as they should be. In the 2014-15 flu season in Minnesota, about 51 percent of adults age 18-64 who are at high risk for serious complications from flu got their flu vaccine. Higher vaccination rates are key to protecting these individuals.

Flu can be a serious, even life-threatening illness. "Don't wait until flu comes. Get your flu vaccine now so you and the people around you are protected," said Ehresmann.

Fight the flu this season with these tips:

  • Get your flu vaccine.
  • Stay home from school or work if you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue away. If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your sleeve.
  • Clean surfaces you touch frequently, such as doorknobs, water faucets, refrigerator handles and telephones.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available.
  • Get plenty of rest, physical activity and eat healthy to help stay healthy.

You can find a flu vaccine clinic near you at mdhflu.com and select Vaccine Clinic Look-Up. Flu vaccine also may be given at other locations and times not listed. Check with your physician's office, regular walk-in clinic, or pharmacy about getting vaccinated against the flu.

The symptoms of flu, which tend to come on suddenly, can include a sore throat, coughing, fever, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. People who become severely ill with flu-like symptoms should seek medical care.

To learn more about flu and flu activity, join MDH, the Mayo Clinic and the Star Tribune for a Twitter chat on influenza from noon-1 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 8. Use the hashtag #fluchat to participate. More information is also on the MDH website at mdhflu.com.

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