More Americans young and old may need to protect themselves this flu season as fears continue to spread beyond the common virus to new variations, such as swine flu.

So in addition to a regular seasonal flu shot, doctors will offer a two-dose shot to protect against the H1N1 virus (aka swine flu), a strain already responsible for hundreds of deaths, and gastrointestinal symptoms in addition to the more common flu symptoms.

About 36,000 people die each year from the regular seasonal flu, according to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Many of these deaths are among the elderly. 

The swine flu, which has been found to affect a greater percentage of adults under age 50 than the traditional flu does, could cause as many as 90,000 additional deaths, according to

This Year, Three Could Be a Charm

The swine flu and the common flu are two different strains of a virus. The swine flu shot comes in two doses, so to be fully protected, you’ll need three shots: one for the common flu, one for the swine flu, and another for the swine flu three weeks later.

It’s not clear yet whether the swine flu shot will be covered by insurers, but the CDC is recommending it.  The regular flu shot is usually covered by health insurance plans though you may be subject to a co-payment. (The American Lung Association can help you find a flu clinic nearby.) If you’re paying out of pocket, a shot will cost you about $30, but some employers offer them free.

The shot-averse can opt for one less injection by using FluMist, a nasal flu vaccine.

Those on the priority list for the flu vaccines include pregnant women, health care workers and emergency medical responders, people caring for infants less than 6 months old, children and young adults from 6 months to 24 years and people between 25 to 64 years old with underlying medical conditions like asthma or diabetes, according to the CDC.

Starting Early

Common flu shots are available before the regular flu season, which starts in October, so it’s possible to get protected from the virus early. 

However, the vaccine may wear off in six months, some health officials say. So if you opt to get your flu shot soon, your doctor may recommend that you get a booster shot sometime in the winter.

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