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AARP Vermont advises public on H1N1 flu

With the arrival of the novel H1N1 ("swine flu"), many Vermonters are understandably confused about how to protect themselves against the flu this year.

The heightened media attention to HINI and vaccine availability is only adding to the rising angst. AARP is working with the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) to encourage older Americans to protect themselves and those in their care by getting vaccinated.

Experts say that, this year, a seasonal flu vaccination for people 50 and over is as important as ever. Even before novel H1N1 became a threat, flu claimed an average of 36,000 lives and hospitalized more than 200,000 Americans every year. Health authorities have long recommended that people 50 and over get a seasonal flu vaccine each year.

Experts also recommend people 65 and older get a pneumococcal vaccination, which they can get at the same time as their seasonal flu vaccination. Pneumococcus is a bacteria that can cause a range of conditions, including pneumococcal pneumonia, blood infection, and meningitis. Young children and people over 65 are the hardest hit.

Both pneumococcal and seasonal flu vaccines are available now.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), older Americans are less likely to get sick from novel H1N1, perhaps due to exposure to a similar virus many years ago. However, they are more likely to suffer serious complications and even death from seasonal flu. Vaccination is the first line of defense, but good hygiene habits, like frequent hand washing and covering your mouth when you cough are also important. If you get sick, antiviral medications are also available to help treat the flu.

"We must not get distracted by H1N1-we must remember our annual seasonal flu vaccination," Dave Reville, of AARP Vermont. "Pneumococcal vaccination is also important, and now is a great time to get both vaccines."

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