The influenza vaccination is an annual vaccination using a vaccine specific for a given year to protect against the highly variable influenza virus. Each seasonal influenza vaccine contains antigens representing three (trivalent vaccine) or four (quadrivalent vaccine) influenza virus strains: one influenza type A subtype H1N1 virus strain, one influenza type A subtype H3N2 virus strain, and either one or two influenza type B virus strains. Influenza vaccines may be administered as an injection, also known as a flu shot, or as a nasal spray.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that everyone over the ages of 6 months should receive the seasonal influenza vaccine. Vaccination campaigns usually focus on people who are at high risk of serious complications if they catch the flu, such as the elderly and people living with chronic illness or those with weakened immune systems, as well as health care workers.
Influenza A (H1N1) virus is the subtype of influenza A virus that was the most common cause of human influenza (flu) in 2009. Some strains of H1N1 are endemic in humans and cause a small fraction of all influenza-like illness and a small fraction of all seasonal influenza. H1N1 strains caused a small percentage of all human flu infections in 2004–2005. Other strains of H1N1 are endemic in pigs (swine influenza) and in birds (avian influenza).
In June 2009, the World Health Organization declared the new strain of swine-origin H1N1 as a pandemic. This strain is often called swine flu by the public media. This novel virus spread worldwide and had caused about 17,000 deaths by the start of 2010. On August 10, 2010, the World Health Organization declared the H1N1 influenza pandemic over, saying worldwide flu activity had returned to typical seasonal patterns.
An influenza pandemic is an epidemic of an influenza virus that spreads on a worldwide scale and infects a large proportion of the human population. In contrast to the regular seasonal epidemics of influenza, these pandemics occur irregularly, with the 1918 Spanish flu the most serious pandemic in recorded history. Pandemics can cause high levels of mortality, with the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic estimated as being responsible for the deaths of approximately 50 million people or more. There have been about three influenza pandemics in each century for the last 300 years, the most recent one being the 2009 flu pandemic.
Influenza pandemics occur when a new strain of the influenza virus is transmitted to humans from another animal species. Species that are thought to be important in the emergence of new human strains are pigs, chickens and ducks. These novel strains are unaffected by any immunity people may have to older strains of human influenza and can therefore spread extremely rapidly and infect very large numbers of people. Influenza A viruses can occasionally be transmitted from wild birds to other species causing outbreaks in domestic poultry and may give rise to human influenza pandemics. The propagation of influenza viruses throughout the world is thought in part to be by bird migrations, though commercial shipments of live bird products might also be implicated, as well as human travel patterns.