The recent report of Colorado’s first death from flu this season, in a Weld County young adult with no underlying health problems, is an unfortunate reminder of how serious influenza can be.

During National Influenza Vaccination Week, the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment wants to remind everyone that immunizations are the best way to protect yourself from getting – or giving others – the flu. If you haven’t gotten a flu vaccine yet, get one as soon as you can.

Though the number of confirmed hospitalized cases in Larimer County — five — is low right now, the virus is here and with holiday travel and social gatherings the number will rise.

It is still early in the flu season, and there’s plenty of vaccine to go around,” said Nancy Tippin, RN, supervisor of the Health Department’s Immunization Program. “Flu vaccine is available at clinics, pharmacies, doctor’s offices, and at the Health Department, so it should not be difficult to find one. If you don’t like shots, most healthy people under 50 can get the nasal spray vaccine.” For most people with health insurance, the vaccine should be free if they go to their primary care provider.

The CDC recommends that anyone over 6-months old should receive a flu vaccination. It is especially important for those with weakened immune systems, with special health needs, pregnant women, and the elderly. People at high risk for developing serious flu complications include children younger than 5 years; people 65 years of age and older; pregnant women; those with impairments in the development or function of the brain; people with certain long-term medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, blood disorders, severe obesity,
kidney and liver disorders, HIV infection or AIDS and cancer.

For these people, getting the flu can mean more serious illness, including hospitalization or worsening of an existing chronic condition. But severe complications and death can also occur in those who are in good health. About 40 percent of pediatric flu deaths in the U.S. occur in children with no underlying health problems.

This year’s vaccine is formulated to prevent at least three strains of flu, though some vaccines protect against four strains. The predominant circulating strain so far this season has been the type A H1N1 flu, which caused the 2009 outbreak and has been more severe in younger age groups than typical flu strains. However other strains may emerge and become dominant in coming months.

“H1N1 can cause more hospitalizations and deaths than usual among younger age groups, unlike last year’s H3N2 strain that hit the elderly hard,” said Tippin. “Since young people mount the strongest response to vaccinations, this year’s vaccine will offer good protection.”

Each year, flu vaccines are formulated to match the strains of the virus expected to circulate that year. Flu viruses are always changing and this year’s vaccine is meant to provide good protection against the currently circulating types.

“If you haven’t received your flu vaccine yet, this is a perfect time as families and friends gather for the holidays, public travel increases, and as flu activity begins to increase,” said Tippin. “Protecting yourself also protects others.

“It’s not too late to get your flu shot or spray vaccine. In fact, it’s the perfect time.”

For more information, see www.larimer.org/health.

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