Influenza infects 25 to 50 million people in the U.S. each year. On an average, 36,000 people die and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized due to the flu in the United States. The flu season may start as early as October and go until May annually.

The single best way to protect yourself and your loved ones from this serious disease is to get vaccinated in the fall. Flu vaccines are safe, effective and can not cause the flu. Vaccines are available either by injection or by flu nasal spray. You should seek the flu vaccination as soon as it is available. In Winneshiek County, the vaccine is available in October and into 2007. So the time to get the vaccine is NOW!! There is no shortage of flu vaccine. Anyone including children wanting to reduce their chances of getting the flu can get vaccinated and are recommended to do so.

The flu is not just a bad cold, it is an upper respiratory infection that will make you so sick you may not be able to work, attend school, or take care of your loved ones. Some persons may end up in the hospital and even die. The flu is contagious and spreads easily to others. Avian and pandemic influenza are not immediate threats to human health, but you still need to think about the annual flu.

Studies have shown that healthy workers vaccinated have 43ewer sick days than unvaccinated workers. This helps to maintain good productivity and protects employees as well so work places should offer flu vaccine clinics as well for their employees. Having the flu is not a holiday from work and could lead to hospitalizations.

Children from 6 months to their 5th birthday are at risk for complications from the flu so should be vaccinated. Each year, about 20,000 people younger than 5 are hospitalized because of flu complications, some of these may die. Persons with chronic health concerns such as diabetes, asthma, even pregnant women, as well as individuals over the age of 50 should be vaccinated as well. If you fall in that category or are a caregiver for those groups, you need to get protection, too. It is important to vaccinate everyone in your household if there is a high risk group living there.

Besides having the flu vaccine injection that has been available, there is an alternative for healthy persons aged 5-49 years who are not pregnant and have no other health risks. There is a nasal spray flu vaccine that is available at most health care providers this year. If you are seeking more information on this, please contact or call Winneshiek County Public Health at 563-382-4662.