1. Serious consequences
The H1N1 flu virus is highly contagious, easily spread and more invasive than the seasonal flu. It can cause serious illness and death, and children are the most vulnerable. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 26,000 Americans have been hospitalized and there have been 1,049 lab-confirmed deaths, including 200 children, from complications of the H1N1 virus.
There are only two ways to gain immunity to H1N1 - the flu vaccine or get sick with the virus, said Dr. Emily Engelland, Franciscan Skemp physician leader for emergency management. "You do not want to get sick this holiday season," Engelland said.
And if you were sick earlier, don't assume it was H1N1. Dr. Rajiv Naik, a Gundersen Lutheran vaccination expert, said a recent study in Philadelphia showed the majority of people who thought they had H1N1 flu actually had a cold. "It's impossible to know who had H1N1 unless you were tested or had classic disease," Naik said. People who did not have H1N1 flu confirmed should get the vaccine, he said.
3. It will be here for a while
H1N1 flu cases likely will continue until spring, with another peak expected, Naik said. No one knows the severity of the next wave and when the virus could mutate.
4. The vaccine is safe and effective
Health officials said people have had good immunity response with the vaccine. The same technology, testing and quality control were used in making both the H1N1 and seasonal flu vaccines, Naik said. "The seasonal flu vaccine has been around for decades and has a very long safety profile," he said. Nationally, only 84 potentially serious complications have been reported from the 33.7 million vaccine doses shipped, Naik said.
5. Herd immunity
Naik said vaccinating as many people as possible will offer some protection to those not immunized because less virus and infection will be in the community. That is why it's important now to vaccinate as many people in the high-risk groups - then health officials can begin immunizing healthy children, the biggest spreaders of the virus.