Flu seasons are unpredictable and can be severe. An average of 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population becomes ill with the flu each year, and more than 200,000 of these individuals are hospitalized due to complications. The flu can be especially serious for children. Each year, an average of 20,000 children under age five are hospitalized as a result of flu complications. Children ages two to 17 are twice as likely to get the flu as adults.
Such setbacks resulting from the flu can affect a family's life, but there are steps you can take to help prevent the flu. Through the "Don't Wait to Vaccinate" campaign, soccer legend and mom Brandi Chastain encourages families to keep these four tips in mind:
* Get an annual flu vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone six months and older should get a flu vaccine each year as it is the single best way to help prevent the flu.
* Don't wait. Every year, it is important to get yourself and your family vaccinated as soon as vaccine is available in your community, which can be as early as August.
* Know your options. It's important to remember the flu vaccine comes in two forms -- the shot or nasal spray. Talk to your doctor about which type is right for you and your eligible family members.
* Practice good health habits. Taking everyday preventive steps, like staying away from sick people and washing your hands, helps reduce the spread of germs. If you are sick with the flu, stay home from work or school to prevent spreading influenza to others.
"Flu viruses are constantly changing, and the strains that circulate from season to season may be different," according to Anat Feingold, MD, a leading influenza expert and division head of pediatric infectious disease at the Children's Regional Hospital at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, New Jersey. "Because of this, flu vaccines are updated from one season to the next, which is why the CDC recommends getting vaccinated every year."
Additionally, a person's immune protection from vaccination declines over time, so annual vaccination helps provide optimal protection.