The best way to avoid this fate is to get a flu vaccine each year as early as possible, before or even during flu season, which usually lasts from October to as late as May. The vaccine is available as either a shot or a nasal spray.
Flu is highly contagious. When infected people cough or sneeze, the flu virus can spread to others up to 6 feet away. As many as 1 in 5 Americans come down with the flu each year, and kids are 2 to 3 times more likely than adults to get sick with the flu. Most cases are mild, but flu can also be serious, leading to hospitalization and even death.
Flu vaccines can reduce illness, doctors’ visits, and missed work and school. Vaccines can also prevent flu-related hospitalizations and deaths. When more people get vaccinated, it’s harder for the flu virus to spread.
Experts recommend that everyone 6 months and older get the annual flu vaccine, with rare exceptions. Talk to your doctor if you have questions about which vaccine options are best for you and your family. Learn more at www.flu.gov
What is Influenza (also called Flu)?
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year.
Signs and Symptoms of Flu
People who have the flu often feel some or all of these signs and symptoms:
- Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (very tired)
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
*It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.
How Flu Spreads
Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or possibly their nose.
Period of Contagiousness
You may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time.
Onset of Symptoms
The time from when a person is exposed to flu virus to when symptoms begin is about 1 to 4 days, with an average of about 2 days.
Complications of Flu
Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.
People at High Risk from Flu
Anyone can get the flu (even healthy people), and serious problems related to the flu can happen at any age, but some people are at high risk of developing serious flu-related complications if they get sick. This includes people 65 years and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant women, and young children.
The first and most important step in preventing flu is to get a flu vaccination each year. CDC also recommends everyday preventive actions (like staying away from people who are sick, covering coughs and sneezes and frequent handwashing) to help slow the spread of germs that cause respiratory (nose, throat, and lungs) illnesses, like flu.
It is very difficult to distinguish the flu from other viral or bacterial causes of respiratory illnesses on the basis of symptoms alone. There are tests available to diagnose flu. For more information, see Diagnosing Flu.
There are influenza antiviral drugs that can be used to treat flu illness.
For more information, see “Seasonal Influenza, More Information.”
What’s new this flu season?
A few things are new this season:
- Only injectable flu shots are recommended for use this season.
- Flu vaccines have been updated to better match circulating viruses.
- There will be some new vaccines on the market this season.
- The recommendations for vaccination of people with egg allergies have changed.
What flu vaccines are recommended this season?
This season, only injectable flu vaccines (flu shots) should be used. Some flu shots protect against three flu viruses and some protect against four flu viruses.
Options this season include:
- Standard dose flu shots. Most are given into the muscle (usually with a needle, but one can be given to some people with a jet injector). One is given into the skin.
- A high-dose shot for older people.
- A shot made with adjuvant for older people.
- A shot made with virus grown in cell culture.
- A shot made using a vaccine production technology (recombinant vaccine) that does not require the use of flu virus.
Live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV) – or the nasal spray vaccine – is not recommended for use during the 2016-2017 season because of concerns about its effectiveness.
The recommendations for people with egg allergies have been updated for this season.
- People who have experienced only hives after exposure to egg can get any licensed flu vaccine that is otherwise appropriate for their age and health.
- People who have symptoms other than hives after exposure to eggs, such as angioedema, respiratory distress, lightheadedness, or recurrent emesis; or who have needed epinephrine or another emergency medical intervention, also can get any licensed flu vaccine that is otherwise appropriate for their age and health, but the vaccine should be given in a medical setting and be supervised by a health care provider who is able to recognize and manage severe allergic conditions. (Settings include hospitals, clinics, health departments, and physician offices). People with egg allergies no longer have to wait 30 minutes after receiving their vaccine.
Will the United States have a flu epidemic?
The United States experiences epidemics of seasonal flu each year. This time of year is called “flu season.” In the United States, flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter months. Influenza activity often begins to increase in October and November. Most of the time flu activity peaks between December and March and can last as late as May. CDC monitors certain key flu indicators (for example, outpatient visits of influenza-like illness (ILI), the results of laboratory testing and flu hospitalization and deaths). When these indicators rise and remain elevated for a number of consecutive weeks, flu season is said to have begun.
This material is presented for educational purposes only. For specific information about you or your child, please contact your health care provider. Also please visit NIH.gov and CDC.gov.
Don’t delay, get your flu shot today!