The CDC and its partners established NIVW in 2005, and chose December to remind the public that even though the holiday season has begun, it is not too late to get a flu vaccine. While vaccination is recommended before the end of October, vaccines received later in the season are still beneficial. In fact, vaccinations should continue through the holiday season and beyond, as long as flu viruses are spreading and causing illness.
Despite the common belief that the flu is just a “bad cold,” it is actually a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. The flu can cause serious health complications that include pneumonia, bacterial infections, ear infections, sinus infections and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.
While most people who get the flu will recover in several days to less than two weeks, some people will develop complications that result in hospitalization and even death. Young children, pregnant women, those 65 years and older, and people with certain chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, and heart and lung diseases, are at elevated risk of experiencing complications from the flu.
Flu viruses are spread primarily through tiny droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might get the flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes. Influenza virus infection is so common that the number of people infected each season can only be estimated.
The flu vaccine has been shown to reduce flu related illnesses and the risk of serious flu complications that can result in hospitalization or even death. Additionally, the flu vaccine can:
- Prevent sickness from the flu virus;
- Reduce the risk of flu-related hospitalization for children, working age adults, and older adults;
- Help to prevent serious medical events associated with some chronic conditions;
- Help to protect women before, during and after pregnancy, and can protect the baby from the flu infection for several months after birth;
- Offer life-saving protection from the flu for young children;
- Reduce the severity of illness in people who get vaccinated but still get sick; and
- Protect people around you, including those more vulnerable to serious flu illness.
The flu vaccine is the best way to prevent getting the flu, and to help reduce the spread of the illness throughout the community.