Harvard Women's Health Watch

Flu update: This year, reducing your risk for the flu will require two kinds of shots

Flu update

This year, reducing your risk for the flu will require two kinds of shots

In a typical year, 5% to 20% of Americans get the flu, more than 200,000 require hospitalization, and about 35,000 die from the infection. However, 2009 isn't a typical year. We're in the midst of a flu pandemic (a pandemic is a worldwide epidemic) caused by a virus that first emerged in Mexico in February — 2009 H1N1, formerly known as "novel H1N1" or "swine flu." For many of us, that may mean getting two kinds of flu vaccine: one for ordinary, seasonal flu and another for the pandemic strain.

Most people have no immunity to 2009 H1N1. But how severe the illness will be is unknown. So far, it appears to be no more lethal than the seasonal flu. But flu viruses are more contagious and cause more widespread disease in cold weather. The 2009 H1N1 virus first emerged and spread in the northern hemisphere during spring and summer, and most experts think it will likely produce more widespread disease in the fall and winter.

Groups targeted to receive vaccination against seasonal flu and 2009 H1N1 flu

Who should get seasonal flu vaccine*

Who should get 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine*

Pregnant women

Pregnant women

People ages 6 months through 18 years

People ages 6 months through 24 years

People ages 50 and over

People of any age with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, or liver disease

People ages 25 through 64 who have health conditions associated with a higher risk of medical complications

People in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities

People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including health care workers and people who live with or care for children under 6 months of age

Health care and emergency medical services personnel; people who live with or care for children under 6 months of age

*A nasal-spray version is available but is only approved for healthy, nonpregnant people ages 2 to 49.

Source: Adapted from information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at www.cdc.gov/flu and www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu.

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