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Flu Season: What You Need to Know (and Do)

Q&A with Dr. Peter Vellis, Medical Director of the University Health Center

News Release icon Contact: Media Relations Office (518) 956-8150

ALBANY, N.Y. (November 16, 2010) -- Temperatures are dropping and the leaves are falling. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), that means "flu season" has officially arrived. Dr. Peter Vellis serves as the medical director of the University at Albany's University Health Center. Through this role, Dr. Vellis has led planning efforts to minimize the on-campus risk of threatening communicable diseases, such as H1N1 and influenza virus.

Dr. Peter Vellis

Dr. Peter Vellis

Q: This year the flu vaccine is combined with H1N1, as opposed to last year when you had to get two shots. Is the new shot safe?

A: Yes. The flu shot this year is as safe as any previous year's flu shot, which have been very safe. The most common side effect is soreness at the injection site.

Q: Do I really need to get vaccinated?

A: Everyone would benefit from a flu vaccine but those with chronic diseases benefit the most. If you are eligible a nasal spray form of vaccine is available -- talk to your healthcare provider to see if you qualify.

Q: Last year H1N1 posed a major health threat. Is H1N1 still a problem? If I was vaccinated for it last year, do I need to get vaccinated again?

A: Unfortunately last year's vaccine may not cover you for this year. This year's shot protects against three strains of flu: A/H1N1 (the swine flu), influenza A/H3N2 and Influenza B. Though it is not believed that last year's H1N1 has changed genetically, (therefore no changes were made to the H1N1 component of this year's flu vaccine) we do know that the effects of last year's flu vaccine may wane and therefore additional vaccination this year is the best way to minimize your risk from the flu. Also, this year's flu vaccine has two flu strains included in addition to H1N1 to maximize protection.

Q: What precautions can I take to minimize my risk of getting the flu?

A: Whether it is the flu or any other illness, there are some simple steps you can take to minimize your risk and the risk to those around you:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. Also consider coughing or sneezing into your bent elbow, directing the sneeze or cough downward and avoiding contamination of hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • CDC recommends that in order to decrease the risk of infecting others, people with influenza-like illnesses should remain at home at least 24 hours after they are free of fever (100° F [37.8°C]), or signs of a fever without the use of fever-reducing medications.
  • Consider wearing a surgical mask to minimize spreading the virus to others. These masks are available at drug stores and from Resident Life personnel at the University.

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