By Meron Tesfai

BHPC Medical Director Dr. Nguyen smiles through his flu shot.

BHPC Medical Director Dr. Nguyen smiles through his flu shot.

National Influenza Vaccination Week (Dec 2-9) is a national observance that was established to highlight the importance of everyone 6 months and older getting vaccinated against influenza.Influenza, also called the “flu,” is an illness caused by a virus.  It can lead to symptoms including a sudden fever, cough, muscle ache, headache, and general weakness. The flu is spread when an infected person sneezes, coughs, or talks and others nearby breathe in the germ. Symptoms can range from mild to severe and can be particularly dangerous for the very young, the very old, and for those with other medical problems.

You can protect yourself, your family and community!

1. Get a flu vaccine:  A person needs to get a flu immunization every year to be fully protected.  Two types of immunizations are available to protect against the flu. One is a vaccine given in the arm and the other is a spray given in the nose. Click here for a printable sheet about the 2012-2013 flu vaccine.

Flu vaccination is especially important for children age six months through 18 years, pregnant women, persons 50 years of age and older, residents living in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities, persons of any age with chronic medical conditions, and those who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from the flu (such as healthcare workers, household contacts, or caregivers of persons at high risk).

The flu spray immunization (sometimes called LAIV for “Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine”) is approved for use in healthy people between the ages of 2 and 49 who are not pregnant. Both the spray and the injection methods are effective at preventing the flu.

Flu immunization is not recommended for infants younger than six months of age and those who have had a severe allergic (anaphylactic) reaction to eggs or to a previous dose of a flu immunization. Persons with a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome (a severe illness that causes paralysis) should talk to their healthcare provider before getting flu vaccine.

2. Cover your cough:  Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue every time you cough or sneeze and then throw the used tissue in a waste basket.  If you don’t have a tissue, sneeze or cough into your upper sleeve.

3. Clean your hands: Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand cleaner, especially after coughing or sneezing.

4. Limit contact: If possible limit contact with persons who are sick or stay home when you are sick. Avoid sharing items such as eating utensils, drinking glasses, towels, or other personal items, especially with people who are ill.

For the nearest free flu clinic near you and for more information about the flu, visit  or call 617-534-5050.

Meron is a project manager in the Education & Outreach Office of our Infectious Disease Bureau.