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    Infectious Diseases A -Z: National Influenza Vaccination Week

vaccination vials in a laboratory

Have you had your annual influenza vaccination? If not, this National Influenza Vaccination Week may be the perfect time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention selected the week of Dec. 4-10 to highlight the importance of flu vaccines through the holiday season and beyond. Mayo Clinic internal medicine specialist Dr. Vandana Bhide says influenza can be a serious and potentially deadly virus that causes fever, coughing and muscle aches. The flu also can lead to other complications, including pneumonia, bronchitis and, potentially, death.

"Many people who get the flu will have a fever, experience muscle aches and feel the need to stay home from work or school for a few days. Certain people can develop serious complications. The vaccine can help avoid these issues,” says Dr. Bhide.

Watch: Dr. Vandana Bhide discusses influenza.

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"People always ask me why do I have to get a flu shot every single year as with other vaccines, you can just get a booster shot every once in awhile," says Dr.Bhide. "With influenza, because it can change year-to-year, and the immunization is very specific to the strain, you have to get the vaccine every single year." She adds, "The important thing to know about the influenza vaccine is that you have to get the actual vaccine to the strain that's active." This year's flu strains include H1N1 A and a new subtype known as H3N2. There’s also a new B strain called Brisbane.

Tips for avoiding illness

Dr. Bhide offers these tips for staving off the flu and other illnesses, regardless of the season:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly and frequently with soap and water, or alcohol-based hand sanitizer. This is particularly important before leaving the bathroom, eating, or touching your face.
  • Avoid others who are sick, and stay home from work or school if you are ill.
  • Keep your vaccines up to date. Aside from the seasonal flu shot, the most important vaccines, she says, include measles, mumps and rubella and the combined tetanus diphtheria and cellular pertusis (whooping cough) booster, or Tdap.

Due to the unpredictability of the flu season, which is typically from October to March, there is no specific date by which you should get your vaccine. The only advice is that the vaccine should be administered as early as possible to be able to take effect before exposure to the virus.