This week is National Influenza Vaccination Week, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are sending out the message to Americans that it’s “Not too late to vaccinate”.

According to the CDC, the flu season has started early this year, with confirmed cases across 48 states so far. For most the virus will be irritating and mean a few days in bed, but over 200,000 Americans are hospitalized every year for influenza related complications.

The flu season usually reaches its peak in February and can run until May but the early start this year indicates that more people will suffer and more will experience serious complications as a result of the virus. Already there have been 26 flu related hospitalizations and four deaths in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, with many more anticipated as the epidemic worsens. So what can you do to prevent getting the flu?

Highest risks
Although anyone can get the flu, some groups of people are more likely to suffer from flu-related problems, such as breathing problems and pneumonia. It is especially important that people in these risk groups take extra precautions to avoid the virus, particularly if they have not yet been vaccinated.
Children under 5, particularly those under the age of 2.
People with pre-existing medical conditions, such as asthma, heart conditions, lung disease and diabetes.
Pregnant women.
People aged over 65 years.
Babies under 6 months are at particular risk and are unable to receive the vaccination so particular care needs to be taken to prevent the virus.

Avoiding the Flu
As well as vaccinations, there are other measures that everyone should take to avoid contracting and passing on the virus. You can help protect yourself and your family from influenza, and help to stop it from spreading by taking a few simple measures:
Stay at home. Viruses spread quickly in the workplace and at school. If you or your child are sick then stay at home until your symptoms go.
Avoid sick people. It is hard to stay away from people if they have the flu, especially at work or school but try your best to avoid close contact with people who have “flu.
Wash your hands. Regular washing of hands will help to stop you from catching the virus and will stop you from spreading it from place to place. Use plenty of soap and hot water, and take your time; make sure you wash your hands thoroughly.
Use antibacterial rubs or wipes. If you can’t wash your hands use antibacterial hand gel or wipes to get rid of unwanted germs, especially after blowing your nose, sneezing, using public transport, shopping or handling money.
Avoid touching your face. The fastest way to contaminate yourself with germs is by touching your nose, eyes or mouth with dirty hands.
Stay healthy. Keep your immune system healthy with lots of fresh fruit and veg, exercise, sleep and plenty of fluids.
These simple tips take just minutes to do but could help to prevent you from spending a few miserable days in bed, or struggling to or from work.

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