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Kristi Yamaguchi, Olympic Ice Skater, Pushes Seasonal Flu Shots

She reminds public there's more than swine flu circulating out there

FRIDAY, Aug. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Olympic gold medal figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi is teaming up with U.S. health experts to deliver a simple and important message as flu season approaches: With all the hype around the H1N1 swine flu, don't forget to get a shot against the seasonal flu.

This year, like every year, Yamaguchi will be lining up for her seasonal flu vaccine as soon as it's available.

So will her two small children, her husband and the children's grandparents.

"As a mom of two children 5 and under, I want to protect my kids. One simple way to do that is to vaccinate myself and everyone around my kids," says Yamaguchi, who has been getting regular flu vaccines for the past 20 years and is a national spokeswoman for the American Lung Association's Faces of Influenza campaign.

This year, two different flu viruses -- the seasonal flu and the H1N1 swine flu -- are competing for attention, making it all the more important that Americans not forget the importance of getting inoculated against the regular, garden-variety flu.

"We are likely to have two flu seasons, which may occur at the same time and peak at the same time, or they may not," said Dr. Norman Edelman, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association. "The important thing to remember is that the seasonal flu remains a very important and dangerous illness."

Between 10 percent and 20 percent of the U.S. population comes down with flu every year; more than 200,000 are hospitalized and more than 30,000 die from it, Edelman said.

But from what experts know so far, the regular flu shot will not protect you from getting the swine flu.

"Lab tests suggest that the bugs are pretty different," Edelman said. "We're recommending that people get vaccinated with the seasonal flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available. Get that out of the way and then, when the federal government finally develops guidelines and availability for the H1N1 vaccine, you can go and get that. We think that's the most intelligent way to go about it and the best way to protect yourself against both flu strains."

And at this point, Edelman sees no reason why people should not receive both shots. The seasonal flu shot is not recommended for people who have severe allergies to chicken eggs, children under 6 months of age, people who have a fever and those who have had bad reactions to the shot in previous years.

But that still leaves about 80 percent of the country eligible for the shot, Edelman said.

Precautions for preventing getting infected are essentially the same for both flu types.

"It's transmission, transmission, transmission," Edelman said.

That means washing your hands diligently, covering your nose when you sneeze or cough, or at least coughing into the crook of your arm or a tissue rather than into your hand.

"Use common sense if you're in a high-risk category," Edelman said. "If you're a frail 90-year-old, don't invite the grandkids over if they're sick. And, of course, it's getting vaccinated."

In fact, the elderly should be especially careful to get their regular flu shots this year. Although they seem to have some protection for the swine flu, they're still very vulnerable to the seasonal flu.

"With swine flu, it's more important than ever to educate people and know some of the facts," said Yamaguchi. "With 30,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations from the seasonal flu, those numbers are certainly higher than what we've seen of the swine flu. Protecting yourself from both viruses is very important."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on seasonal flu.

SOURCES: Kristi Yamaguchi, Olympic gold medal skater and national spokeswoman, Faces of Influenza, American Lung Association; Norman Edelman, M.D., chief medical officer, American Lung Association

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