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The week of December 3-9 has been designated as National Influenza Vaccination Week, a national awareness week focused on highlighting the importance of flu vaccination. With influenza in the national news this week, the timing couldn’t be better.

Recent reports out earlier this week by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention indicate seasonal flu activity is higher than usual for this time of year and Influenza A has been the predominant virus seen so far this season. CNN reports five children have died, and an additional 566 flu-related hospitalizations have occurred as of November 25. The flu can lead to potentially serious complications such as pneumonia, and bronchitis as well as sinus and ear infections. Those at high risk for complications include pregnant women, children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old, people 65 year of age and older, and people who have certain medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease.

Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness whose common symptoms include cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, fever and chills, muscle and body aches, headaches and fatigue. The duration can be as short as two to three days or as long as two-three weeks.

The flu vaccine is still the best available way to protect against influenza. CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get an injectable flu vaccine as soon as possible. For those at high risk of serious flu complications, getting a flu vaccine is especially important. It’s also recommended that those who care for anyone at high risk, including children younger than 6 months who are too young to get a flu vaccine get vaccinated. Despite this recommendation, fewer than half of Americans have received the injection. The common concern focuses on the effectiveness and the side effects of the vaccine.

The CDC notes the most common side effects of the vaccine are sore or swollen arms, hoarseness, sore eyes, cough, fever and aches. These effects are usually mild and go away on their own. And though the vaccine is no guarantee of protection, if you get the flu in spite of the vaccine, your flu case is much likely to be milder.

Other precautions to take this flu season include using good hand-washing techniques, teaching kids how not to share germs, staying home when you are sick and disinfecting common surfaces on a regular basis.

If would like to schedule a vaccination or would like to discuss questions and concerns with a primary care provider, please contact one of the Virginia Gay family clinics in Atkins, Urbana, Van Horne and Vinton. For contact information or to learn more about Virginia Gay Hospital healthcare, please visit www.myvgh.com.