SEATTLE - Here's a New Year's resolution that takes only a few minutes: Get a flu shot. Flu season has arrived, and this time last year, there were weekly updates on hospitalizations and deaths due to the H1N1 flu virus. Although it did not become the pandemic that was expected, H1N1 is still around. It is one of three types of flu that this year's vaccine protects against.
Michelle Roberts, a health promotion manager with the Washington Department of Health, says there's plenty of vaccine available this year - and it's prime time to roll up your sleeve.
"Now's a really good time, because we're just starting to see disease start to pick up - flu disease. There's definitely been some disease in the southern states. With people traveling over the holidays, we expect to see that spreading. We're starting to see a few more cases here in Washington."
She says most of the state's cases so far have been reported in central Washington. Roberts says children under age 9 who are getting their first flu vaccine will need two doses.
Health professionals learned a lot from the H1N1 scare, Roberts explains. Flu shots used to be recommended only for young children, people over age 65 or those with chronic health conditions. However, this year's recommendation from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is for annual flu vaccinations for everyone over six months of age, she adds.
"One of the lessons we learned is that even healthy people can get the flu. Often, we think about people who are going to have the most severe side effects as being the very young and especially the very elderly. But H1N1 was different. We saw really healthy adults and healthy teenagers getting severely sick - and dying - from H1N1."
In anticipation of this flu season, the state Health Department has begun a campaign called "WashYourHandsington." Roberts calls it a lighthearted way to get a serious message across.
"'WashYourHandsington' talks about the state where everyone washes their hands, covers their coughs and gets a flu vaccine. It's just a fun approach to get people's attention, and to remind them that flu is serious and getting vaccinated is a simple thing they can do to stay healthy."
In the last flu season, almost 42,000 people were hospitalized nationwide and more than 2,100 deaths were attributed to the H1N1 virus.