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Flu Season 2012: Time to Get Your Shots

To combat flu season, residents should get vaccinated for their own sake and for the sake of their community, health officials say.

 

This year's flu season has officially begun and with two strains going around already, health officials say vaccinations are particularly important this year.

Approximately 85 million doses of flu vaccine have been distributed, part of a total of 135 million doses for this year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA Today reported.

There are many practitioners in Ditmas Park that can administer flu shots, including pratices that accept walk-ins.

"Influenza is predictably unpredictable," said Howard Koh, assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, who spoke at a news conference in Washington organized by the National Foundation for Infectious Disease.

"In 2009-2010, we had a pandemic with thousands hospitalized and many deaths," Koh said. "Last year, we set a record for the lowest number of hospitalizations and the shortest influenza season."

But Koh noted that even in the mildest of seasons, the virus can still be dangerous. "Even mild seasons can lead to suffering and death," he said. 

Forty-two percent of Americans got a flu shot last year, about the same rate as the year before, according to the CDC, USA Today reported.

Vaccination coverage fell sharply with increasing age, peaking at a high of 75% of babies ages 6 to 23 months but falling to 39% of adults and 34% of teens ages 13 to 17. 

Koh said that each year, 5% to 20% of Americans get the flu, causing up to 200,000 hospitalizations, 20,000 of which are in children. 

William Schaffner, past president of the infectious disease foundation, noted that while flu shots are not perfect, they reduce the risk of becoming sick by 50% to 60% when there is a good match between the vaccine strains and those circulating in the community.

"People cannot become complacent this season," Koh said. "When it comes to the flu, we cannot look to the past to predict what will happen this season."

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