H1N1: Take it seriously

As you head toward finals, take the H1N1 flu vaccine to protect yourself and those around you.

by Kathleen Sebelius

I am writing today to urge you to take H1N1 flu seriously, not just as the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services who has read lots of scientific studies saying this is a young personâÄôs pandemic, but also as a mother of two sons who not long ago were sitting exactly where you are today. I know itâÄôs easy to believe that the flu is something that only the very old or the very young need to worry about, that catching the flu is no big deal. No flu should ever be dismissed as âÄújust the flu.âÄù The regular, seasonal flu is responsible for 36,000 deaths every year âÄî mainly people over 65. But H1N1 mainly hits the young. So what can you do to protect yourself and people around you from the flu? Get vaccinated. ItâÄôs the most effective way to prevent the flu. The H1N1 flu vaccine is made the same way as the seasonal flu vaccine, which has a decades-long safety track record. And itâÄôs undergone more testing than other flu vaccines. If youâÄôre someone with a health condition like diabetes or asthma, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say you should get vaccinated as soon as your community has a vaccine available. Other groups at high risk for serious complications include young children and pregnant women. Also, people who care for babies under the age of six months, health care workers and emergency medical personnel should go to the head of the vaccination line. In addition, many people do not realize that simply being younger than 25 also puts you in a priority group to receive the vaccine. So look into getting vaccinated at school or when you go home for the holidays. Check out the flu vaccination locator that can be found on www.flu.gov to find the best place for you to go to get vaccinated soon. Stay home when youâÄôre sick. If you do get the flu, there are things you should do to protect yourself and those around you. College campuses âÄî dormitories, classes, wherever a lot of people are indoors together âÄî are places the flu can spread. If you get sick, donâÄôt go out and donâÄôt invite visitors in. Seek medical attention immediately if you have diabetes, asthma or some other medical condition and you notice flu-like symptoms. Even if you donâÄôt have a chronic illness, if you have symptoms and they get worse âÄî your fever spikes, you have difficulty breathing or youâÄôre breathing too fast, if you have chest pain âÄî call a doctor or another health provider right away. Make it part of your daily routine to keep flu from spreading. The H1N1 vaccine may not have arrived in your area yet, so keep doing the simple things everyone does to keep germs in check: wash your hands, cough and sneeze into your sleeve rather than into your hands and disinfect surfaces like computer keyboards and countertops. Go to www.flu.gov. Check out our self-evaluation link to help you understand if your symptoms are serious. ThereâÄôs a flu locater for where vaccine will be in your community, tips on prevention, including videos that give you critical information you can use, even a section to help you know how to tell a flu fact from a myth on the Internet. There are widgets, buttons, public service announcements and a Facebook page, so you can spread H1N1 information âÄî not the virus âÄî to people you know. In addition, we just released a new video featuring students, young people and others talking about why they chose to get vaccinated. You can also tell us why you got vaccinated by submitting your own video at YouTube.com/group/TheFluandYou. No one knows whether this wave of H1N1 will get worse, taper off or be followed by another wave later in the season. But we do know that preventing flu depends on all of us, and everyone will be safer if each one of us is serious about preventing and reducing H1N1 flu. Kathleen Sebelius, U.S. secretary of health and human services.