More than one-third of the country has already been vaccinated against the influenza virus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Monday.
With National Influenza Vaccination Week ending Saturday, health officials are aiming to increase that percentage—especially since this year's season may be a bad one.
The 2012-13 season is shaping up to be one of the worst flu seasons in a while, officials from the CDC said in a teleconference Monday. There have been a larger-than-usual number of suspected flu cases in five Southern states, and this year's strain may be more virulent.
Two children have already died of the illness and more than 200,000 people each year are hospitalized due to complications from the flu, according to the CDC.
“Flu season typically peaks in February and can last as late as May,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, Assistant Surgeon General of the U.S. Public Health Service and Director of the CDC National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a news release.
“We are encouraging people who have not yet been vaccinated to get vaccinated now.”
Symptoms and side effects
Symptoms of the flu include muscle or body aches, headaches, cough, sore throat, fatigue, fever or chills, and vomiting and diarrhea (the latter two are more common in kids). People are contagious a day before symptoms appear and up to a week after getting sick, and it's possible to carry the virus without being sick.
The CDC recommends getting annual vaccines as early as possible, as it takes a few weeks to reach full immunity. Vaccines can cost $20-30; however, they are often covered by insurance.
Flu shots are made from an inert virus, which means it’s impossible to get the flu from the vaccine, according to Dr. Angela Rasmussen, an infectious disease expert.
There are currently three flu shots being produced in the U.S.: the regular (intramuscular) seasonal flu shot, a high-dose vaccine for people 65 and older, and an intradermal (injected into the skin) vaccine for people ages 18 to 64.
In addition, a nasal-spray flu vaccine made with live, weakened flu viruses (which also do not cause the flu) is available to healthy people ages 2 to 49 years old, except pregnant women.
The most common side effect from a flu shot is soreness at the injection site.
Who's at risk?
The elderly, young children, pregnant women and nursing home residents are at greater risk for serious complications from the flu. People with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, cystic fibrosis and chronic lung disease—as well as those who work with them—are also at risk.
“People at high risk should talk with their doctor about getting a high-dose flu shot, as this can provide better protection for people with immune systems that have been weakened by age or other medical conditions,” Rasmussen said.
People with severe chicken egg allergies, a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome, and those who have had a severe reaction to a flu vaccine in the past should consult their doctor before getting a flu shot, and those who have a moderate or severe illness with a fever should wait to get vaccinated until they are well. Babies under six months of age should not get a flu shot.
—Melanie Rosen contributed to this report.