Early Evidence Suggests Current Flu Season Could be Severe; Health Officials Say It's Not Too Late to Get a Flu Shot


WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson once again encourages Americans, particularly those at high risk of serious complications from influenza, to get their flu shot as soon as possible.

"Each year in the United States 36,000 people die from complications related to the flu," Secretary Thompson said. "Early indications are that we may be in for a more severe season than in the previous three years. There is plenty of vaccine to meet demand so protect yourself and those who you love and go out and get vaccinated right now."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said that the United States may be in for a more severe season for several reasons.

"First, it's early in the season and flu viruses are circulating at a higher level than usual at this time and second, the group of influenza viruses circulating this year has in previous years caused a lot of people to become ill and to develop complications," she said. Gerberding echoed Thompson's call for people to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

"It takes about two weeks to develop maximum protection after a flu shot, so we urge people not to delay," she said. "The vaccine is safe and effective, and because the vaccine is made with killed virus it will not give you the flu."

The CDC recommends the following individuals get vaccinated against influenza:

· persons 50 years and older;

· residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities that house persons of any age who have long-term illnesses;

· adults and children 6 months of age and older who have chronic heart or lung conditions, including asthma;

· adults and children 6 months of age and older who need regular medical care or had to be in a hospital because of metabolic diseases (like diabetes), chronic kidney disease, or weakened immune system (including immune system problems caused by medicine or by infection with HIV/AIDS;

· children and teenagers 6 months to 18 years who are on long-term aspirin therapy and therefore could develop Reye Syndrome after the flu; and

· women who will be more than 3 months pregnant during the flu season.

In addition, CDC recommends the following groups of people get vaccinated to prevent spreading flu to individuals at high risk of complications from flu:

· doctors, nurses, and other employees in hospitals and doctors' offices, including emergency response workers;

· employees of nursing homes and long-term care facilities who have contact with patients or residents;

· employees of assisted living and other residences for people in high-risk groups;

· people who provide home care to those in high-risk groups; and

· household members (including children) of people in high-risk groups.

For more information on influenza, visit www.cdc.gov

Source: CDC

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