(CBS News) Health officials are urging Americans to start thinking about their flu vaccine for the upcoming 2012-2013 influenza season. Though last year's flu season was considered mild, health experts warn influenza is unpredictable and the disease could take a serious toll on many Americans. Flu season begins as early as October and may last until May, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"I urge everyone to join me and get a flu vaccine this year," Assistant Secretary for Health and Human Services Dr. Howard K. Koh said in a press release. Koh called on everyone ages 6 months and older to follow the CDC's universal recommendation of getting vaccinated each year. The CDC cautions that even healthy people can not only get very sick from the flu, and spread it to others who may fare even worse. The agency reports between 1976 and 2007, up to 49,000 people have died from influenza. Ninety percent of deaths during a typical seasonal flu season occur in people older than 65.
The CDC also unveiled new statistics today on how many people actually got last year's vaccine in the Sept 27 issue of its journal, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The report showed vaccination rates remained steady with that of previous years, with about 128 million people getting the shot during last year's flu season – about 42 percent of the U.S. population. That's significantly lower than the CDC's goal of vaccinating 80 percent of the U.S. population.
Besides vaccination, the government urges everyday actions like hand washing, covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and taking antiviral flu medications if you're at high risk for flu or develop influenza – in both cases, people should check with their doctor.