Influenza (Flu)

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On this page:
What is influenza (flu)?
What are the symptoms of flu?
Should I get a flu vaccination this year?
Who is most at risk for getting very sick from influenza?
How is the flu different from a cold?
Do children need one or two doses of flu vaccine?
Is the flu vaccine safe?
Can you get the flu from the flu shot?
When should I get vaccinated?
What about the nasal vaccine, FluMist?
What can you do to protect yourself and others?
What if you think you have the flu?
What about antiviral medicine?

What is influenza (flu)?

Influenza is a contagious respiratory disease. It is not the same as the "stomach flu." Flu is caused by a virus that attacks the nose, throat, and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness and at times can lead to death.

What are the symptoms of flu?

Influenza symptoms come on quickly in the form of fever, cough, sore throat, headache, extreme tiredness, stuffed-up nose, and body aches. These symptoms can be severe and put you in bed for several days.

Should I get a flu vaccination this year?

Yes. Everyone 6 months of age and older should get flu vaccine this year. Even if you got flu vaccine last year, you should still get flu vaccine again this year.

Getting a flu shot (or nasal spray) helps protect you from getting the flu, so you won’t pass it to people who risk getting very sick -- like babies, pregnant women, elderly people, and people who have chronic diseases.

Who is most at risk for getting very sick from influenza?

Those most at risk for becoming seriously ill from the flu include:

  • people age 65 and older
  • young children, especially those under 2
  • pregnant women
  • people with chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease
  • American Indian and Alaska Natives

Although these groups listed above are at highest risk, even healthy adults not in a risk category can become very sick with flu.

How is the flu different from a cold?

Colds are generally milder than the flu. A person with a cold is more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose, while the flu brings body aches, fever, and extreme fatigue. A person with a cold will usually keep up his or her normal activities, while someone with the flu will often feel too sick to do so. Colds usually do not result in serious health problems like pneumonia, bacterial infections, and hospitalization.

Do children need one or two doses of flu vaccine?

That will depend on the child’s age and whether they got flu vaccine this past year. If your child is 6 months through 8 years old, he or she may need two doses, at least four weeks apart. Ask your doctor or clinic.

Is the flu vaccine safe?

Yes. Flu vaccines have an excellent safety record and are constantly monitored for potential problems.

Can you get the flu from the flu shot?

No. Some people get mild flu-like symptoms for a short time after being vaccinated, but this is a sign that your body is responding to the vaccine. It is not the flu. Also, because there are many cold viruses circulating in the fall, it is possible that a person could be infected and become ill at the same time they receive the flu vaccine.

When should I get vaccinated?

Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu shot every year. For best protection, flu vaccine is usually given in the fall before flu season starts. But you can get it anytime during flu season.

What about the nasal vaccine, FluMist?

Most healthy, non-pregnant, people 2 through 49 years of age can receive FluMist. Check with your doctor or clinic. 

What can you do to protect yourself and others?

  • Get vaccinated.
  • Avoid being exposed to others who are sick with a flu-like illness.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, or cough or sneeze into your sleeve.
  • Clean your hands often – with soap and water, or a hand sanitizer.
  • Take special care to protect infants. Try not to expose them to large crowds when flu is in your community, and avoid close contact between the baby and family members who may be sick.
  • Do not share drinking cups and straws.
  • Clean commonly touched surfaces often (door knobs, refrigerator handles, phones, water faucets). 

What if you think you have the flu?

  • Stay home if you are ill.
  • Avoid contact with others.
  • Rest and drink lots of fluids.
  • If you are in a high-risk group, call your health care provider for advice.
  • Go to the doctor or the emergency room if you are having these symptoms:  
    • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
    • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
    • Sudden dizziness
    • Confusion
    • Severe or persistent vomiting
    • Flu-like symptoms that improve, but return with worse fever and cough

What about antiviral medicines?

Antiviral medicines can offer some protection, if you have been exposed to influenza, but these medications are only recommended for use in certain groups of people. If you have questions about antivirals, talk to your doctor. 

Updated Monday, 02-Dec-2013 08:59:28 CST