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When autumn comes, many begin to think of the upcoming holiday season. But the flu is also synonymous with this season. Spanning from October to May, especially during the colder months of flu season, this is the time when most people are at risk of contracting the disease. Since it could potentially impact NDW’s readiness, it is important that personnel protect themselves against this potentially dangerous virus.

“It's important to protect against the flu because it is a very serious virus that has significant debilitating symptoms such as fever, severe aches and pains, exhaustion, fatigue, weakness, coughing, and sore throat,” said Leigh Houck, health educator at the Branch Health Clinic, Washington Navy Yard. “This can also lead to bronchitis and pneumonia. Flu causes tens of thousands of deaths each year so it's not something to be taken lightly.”

The disease is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses, of which there are many.

“Each year, experts from the Food and Drug Administration, World Health Organization, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other institutions study virus samples collected from around the world,” said Hospital Corpsman 1st Class (FMF) Paul Groseclose, leading petty officer of the Preventive Medicine Department at the Branch Health Clinic, Washington Navy Yard. “They identify the influenza viruses that are the most likely to cause illness during the upcoming flu season.”

Groseclose said that the virus usually enters the body through mucus membranes in the mouth, nose, or eyes. People infected with the virus can spread it through coughing or sneezing, making the virus airborne, or by spreading it to surfaces that others come in contact with.

Though the virus can spread easily from person to person, there are ways the population can protect itself from the flu. Basic sanitary practices such as hand washing and not touching your eyes, nose or throat will help, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting an influenza vaccination once a year as the best defense against becoming infected.

“The first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses is to get vaccinated,” said Groseclose. “An annual seasonal flu vaccine, either the flu shot or the nasal-spray flu vaccine, is the best way to reduce the chances that you will get seasonal flu and lessen the chance that you will spread it to others. When more people get vaccinated against the flu, less flu can spread through that community.”

The CDC recommends that everyone ages 6 months or older get an annual flu vaccine, particularly young children and seniors. The 2012-2013 flu vaccination protects against the three most prevalent form of the flu: H1N1, H3N2 and the B/Yamagata type viruses.

Houck added that the flu can be debilitating during an already busy time of the year, so staying informed and protected can help the population during such time.

“Bad colds are bad enough, but severe flu can knock you out for a couple of weeks, and we're getting to that time of year when we have many more important things to do,” said Houck. “Who wants to be in bed with the flu during the wonderful celebrations of December?”

For more information about the flu and flu vaccine, visit http://www.cdc.gov/features/Flu/.