Influenza, commonly referred to as ‘the flu,’ is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness and even death. Each year on in the United States, on average:
Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person though coughing and sneezing of an infected person. Also, people may become infected by touching something with the flu virus on it and then touching their mouth or nose. Healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 days after becoming sick. That means you may pass on the flu to someone else before you even know you are sick.
The best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccination every year. There are two types of vaccines.
About two weeks after vaccination, antibodies develop that protect against influenza virus infection. Flu vaccines only protect against illnesses caused by influenza viruses, not flu-like illnesses caused by other viruses.
Yearly flu vaccination should begin in September or as soon as vaccine is available and continue throughout the influenza season. The best time to receive influenza vaccine is during October and November; however vaccination in December, or even later, can still prevent the flu. January and February are typically peak flu months in Virginia, but increased flu activity can last into March or even later. Protection develops about two weeks after vaccination and may last up to a year.
In general, anyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting the flu can get vaccinated. However, certain people should get vaccinated each year because they are either at high risk of having serious flu-related complications or because they live with/care for such persons. People who should get vaccinated each year are:
New this year, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) have added children 5-18 years old to the previous recommendations to vaccinate children 6 months–4 years of age. So now influenza vaccination is recommended for all children aged 6 months up to their 19th birthday.
The expanded recommendations to vaccinate children 5 years old and up include 30 million school-age children. While these older children seldom get as sick as infants and toddlers, this population catches the flu at higher rates, so protection through vaccination should result in fewer missed days from school and less time away from work for parents.
Vaccination of school aged children can also help protect their families and the community. Children are key flu spreaders. Several recent studies have show that communities with more young children tend to have earlier and increased levels of respiratory illness compared to areas that have fewer youngsters.