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Protect Yourself This Flu Season

Protect yourself against the seasonal flu by following the same advice you followed last year: Get vaccinated.

The 2009-2010 flu season saw the emergence of the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus (previously called "novel H1N1" or "swine" flu). As a result, last season everyone had to receive two different vaccines - one to protect against the three seasonal flu strains that were circulating, and a second to protect against 2009 H1N1 influenza. Unlike last flu season, only one vaccine is needed this season, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

During the flu season, people may be infected by one of several strains of influenza viruses (type A or B) that zero in on the nose, throat, and lungs. The flu can make life miserable for a week or two for many people-and deadly for some. Seasonal flu cases can peak anywhere from late December to early March.

Your best defense against the flu is to get immunized as soon as possible. Although there are many different flu viruses, the flu vaccine is designed to protect against the flu strains that research indicates will cause the most illness during the flu season. The 2011-2012 flu vaccine will protect against three different flu viruses: an H3N2 virus, an influenza B virus, and the H1N1 virus that caused so much illness in 2009-2010. The vaccine contains the same viruses included in last flu season's vaccine.  

You can get vaccinated in one of two ways:

  • With a flu shot, given with a needle. This form of the vaccine contains killed virus and is approved for all people older than 6 months.

  • With a nasal-spray vaccine. This form contains live, weakened flu viruses that cannot cause the flu. This form is approved for healthy, nonpregnant people ages 2 to 49 years.

A flu vaccination is most important for:

  • Children ages 6 months to 19 years old

  • Adults ages 50 and older

  • Pregnant women

  • Anyone with certain chronic diseases

  • Anyone who lives in a nursing home or other long-term care site

  • Health care workers

  • People who are in frequent contact with the elderly or chronically ill

Some people should not be vaccinated for the flu before talking to their health care provider. These are reasons to talk your doctor:

  • You have a severe allergy to chicken eggs.

  • You have had a severe reaction to a flu immunization in the past.

  • You developed Guillain-Barré syndrome within six weeks of a previous flu immunization.

Children younger than 6 months of age should not be immunized against the flu, because the flu vaccines have not been approved for that age group.

To find a flu shot clinic near you, use the American Lung Association's flu clinic locator.