If we don't take the right precautions, odds are that up to one in five of us will catch the flu in any given flu season.
For most of us, having the flu means suffering at home for a week or two, then pulling ourselves out of bed to get on with our lives as usual. But the flu can be serious, even deadly, particularly for anyone with a health condition like asthma, heart disease, diabetes, or a weakened immune system. Depending on the severity of the flu season, between 3, 000 and 49,000 people die from the flu each year.
What is it about swine flu that has people so nervous? Should seniors in particular be worried? To learn more, WebMD went to medical experts and got their answers to these and other questions about the 2009 H1N1 virus.
Before the flu can knock you out, you can deliver the first punch. Here are proven strategies to help you avoid flu germs -- and the misery of a flu.
Experts say the single best way to avoid the flu is to get vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available in your area. The ideal time to get your flu shot is early fall. But any time during the winter is fine if you haven't already gotten it.
The vaccine is engineered to protect against the flu strains health experts believe will be most widespread each season -- for example, the H1N1 "swine flu." Some flu vaccines protect against three flu strains (trivalent). Others guard against four strains (quadrivalent).
The flu "shot" contains a killed virus. There is a brand approved for people ages 6 months and older injected into the muscle. Also, an intradermal shot is available that uses a smaller needle that only goes into the top layer of the skin instead of the muscle. It's available for those aged 18 to 64.
The nasal spray -- FluMist -- contains a live but weakened form of the virus. It's approved for anyone between the ages of 2 and 49 who is healthy and not pregnant.
Egg-free vaccines are now available for those aged 18 to 49 who have severe egg allergies.
For those age 65 and older, a high-dose version of the flu vaccine called Fluzone is recommended when available. It may be more effective at protecting an older person's immune system.
Don't try to make excuses for skipping the flu vaccine. Your arm might be a little sore the next day. And you may feel a little achy or run a low fever afterward. But you can't catch the flu from the vaccine, because it contains a weakened or killed form of the virus.
Build a Germ Barrier
The flu virus is easily passed from one person to the next. You can catch it anytime a nearby sick person sneezes or coughs in your direction. When that happens, the person sends a spray of virus-laden droplets straight for your open mouth or nose.