THURSDAY, Sept. 17, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- This year's flu vaccine should be a better match than last year's for circulating flu strains, U.S. health officials said Thursday.
Dr. Tom Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that in most years, the vaccine is 50 to 60 percent effective, meaning that your odds of getting the flu are reduced by as much as 60 percent if you get a flu shot.
Even though this year's vaccine appears to be better matched, "still millions of Americans will get the flu, hundreds of thousands will be hospitalized and thousands will die," Frieden said at a morning media briefing.
Last year's flu season was particularly severe because the predominant strain was an influenza A called H3N2, which was not included in the vaccine.
The vaccine for the 2015-16 season contains the H3N2 strain, Frieden said.
Last year's vaccine was only 13 percent effective against the H3N2 strain. As a result, "more seniors were hospitalized for the flu than ever before."
What's more, 145 children died from the flu, Frieden said, adding that the actual number was "probably much higher since many flu deaths aren't reported."
Frieden said recent statistics show that about half of all Americans get vaccinated against the flu each year, including 50 percent of pregnant women. More people, including pregnant women, need to be vaccinated, he said.
The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get a flu shot every year.
Frieden said there's an adequate supply of flu vaccine this year. Companies are expected to make 170 million doses of vaccine, of which 40 million have already been distributed, he said.
The vaccine is available in a variety of forms, including a shot, a nasal spray and an ultra-thin needle called an intradermal flu vaccine. People allergic to eggs can get an egg-free vaccine and seniors can get a high-dose vaccine, he said.
Adults 18 to 49 years old are the Americans least likely to get a flu shot. Even healthy people should get vaccinated against the flu for two reasons, according to the CDC: to reduce their chances of falling ill, and to help prevent spread of the disease to other people.
People at risk of flu-related complications include young children, especially those younger than 2 years; people over 65; pregnant women; and people with chronic health problems, such as asthma, heart disease and diabetes, as well as those with weakened immune systems, according to the CDC.
Common flu symptoms include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, muscle aches and fatigue. Vomiting and diarrhea are seen more often in children with flu than adults.
Besides vaccination, other ways to treat and prevent flu from spreading include early treatment with antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu and Relenza, and washing hands frequently and covering your mouth when coughing or sneezing, according to the CDC.
Early treatment with antiviral drugs is especially important for children 2 years old and younger, along with adults aged 65 and older, the CDC says.
Most people recover from the flu anywhere from a few days to a bit less than two weeks. But others can suffer life-threatening complications, such as pneumonia, according to the CDC.
Each year, on average, 5 percent to 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from complications. During a 30-year period, from 1976 to 2006, estimates of flu-related deaths in the United States ranged from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people, the agency said.
The timing of flu season is unpredictable and can vary in different parts of the country and from season to season. Most seasonal flu activity typically occurs between October and May. Flu activity most commonly peaks in the United States between December and February.
For more on the flu, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.