When the Flu Kills

Schaffner said getting the flu shot -- which is available from late September through early spring -- does not mean that you will not get the flu, but it may prevent the transmission of life-threatening symptoms caused by the flu. Each year, a new vaccine is created to accommodate the changing strain of the virus.

"Even if [the flu] doesn't match the vaccine strain of the year, you do get some protection," Schaffner said. "Partial protection is better than none."

Indeed, many physicians recommend the flu shot to all their patients -- regardless of age. But a number of patients still refuse. A few years ago, Diane McGowan was one mother who did not see the need for her and her family to get annual vaccinations.

"I was a parent that had the misconception that we didn't need the flu shot unless we had a chronic illness," said McGowan. That was her feeling until 2005, when her 15-year-old son, Martin, died from influenza.

Schaffner said misinformation about the vaccine keeps some people from getting the flu shot. One myth, he said, is that a person can get the flu from getting the flu vaccine.

Cold and Flu Precautions

"Because we administer the shot during the cold season, you may get the shot when you have already developed cold symptoms," Schaffner said.

The CDC also recommends avoiding close contact with others, even if they do not have influenza, as well as taking antiviral medications. McGowan said along with an annual flu shot -- which she and her family now receives -- community awareness is also an important method of prevention.

McGowan has created the nonprofit organization M.A.R.T.I.N. (May All Receive Their Immunizations Now) Flu Foundation, which she hopes will educate others about the severity of the flu and the importance of vaccinations.

"Every time I see the number of deaths from the flu, it kills me," McGowan said. "Because I know it's preventable."

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