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Flu season 2013: What you should know

Why get a flu shot?
(Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Flu season has arrived, and with it, all the concerns and questions that people have regarding the vaccinations against it.

Whether or not you have ever experienced influenza for yourself, most people are aware of just how serious the flu can be. But they may not be aware of how choosing to avoid the flu shot might affect the world around them. Read on for what you need to know for this year's flu season:

Why get a flu shot?
Why get a flu shot? (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Why get a flu shot?

Influenza (commonly called the flu) is a serious respiratory infection that causes severe symptoms, as well as complications that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death.

"Flu Season” in the United States can begin as early as October and last as late as May.

Getting a flu vaccine can protect you from contracting the influenza virus, and can help prevent its spread throughout your household and community.

As William Schaffner, professor and chairman of the Department of Preventative Medicine at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in Nashville, Tennessee, says, "We vaccinate not only to protect ourselves, but to protect the people around us. And when people realize that means I can't give influenza to any member of my family or co-workers or my pals the gym or whatever, that gives them a lot of motivation, because no one wants to give anyone an illness."

When should I get a flu shot?
When should I get a flu shot? (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

When should I get a flu shot?

People should attain the flu vaccination as soon as the current vaccine becomes available, ideally around October. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the influenza antibodies to develop in the body, so it's best that you get vaccinated before the flu begins spreading in your community.

Don't wait until you are already in the grip of a sore throat and fever. Vaccines are for prevention!

I had it last year; do I still need the shot?
I had it last year; do I still need the shot? (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

I had it last year; do I still need the shot?

Flu viruses are constantly changing. New strains of the flu virus evolve and appear each year. Vaccines are updated annually to keep up with the flu viruses as they change. Also, the body’s immunity to viruses declines over time. So, yes, even if you had the flu last year, or were vaccinated for the flu last year, you still need a new flu shot.

Who should get a flu shot?
Who should get a flu shot? (Photo by Ian Waldie/Getty Images)

Who should get a flu shot?

According to the CDC, everyone over the age of six months should get a flu shot. The following people, however, are especially at risk of contracting influenza, and should make sure they are vaccinated:

  • People who are at high risk of developing serious complications (like pneumonia) if they get sick with the flu.
  • People who have certain medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, and chronic lung disease.
  • Pregnant women.
  • People younger than 5 years (and especially those younger than 2), and people 65 years and older.
  • Household contacts and caregivers of infants less than 6 months old.
  • Health care personnel.
  • People who live with or care for others who are at high risk. (i.e. anyone on the above list.)
New bonus to the flu shot
New bonus to the flu shot (Photo by Corinth Community Alliance)

New bonus to the flu shot

According to a new report in the Journal of American Medical Association, patients who receive the flu shot are 55% less likely to experience cardiovascular problems in the future, such as stroke or heart attack.

Need more incentive?
Need more incentive? (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Need more incentive?

  • Each year an average of 20,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized because of influenza complications.
  • The CDC estimates that in the last 30 years, flu-associated deaths ranged from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people.
  • Flu is more likely to cause severe illness in pregnant women than in women who are not pregnant. Changes in the immune system, heart, and lungs during pregnancy make pregnant women more prone to severe illness from flu as well as hospitalizations and even death.
  • Pregnant woman with flu also have a greater chance for serious problems for their unborn baby, including premature labor and delivery.
  • Flu shots will protect pregnant women, their unborn babies and even protect the baby after birth.
  • The CDC estimates that 90 percent of flu-related deaths, and more than 60 percent of flu-related hospitalizations each year occur in our elderly population- people 65 years and older.

So, if you aren't overly concerned about your own health, please give some consideration to those around you whom you might accidentally infect.