Getting the flu means missing work, school, and special events like the big game, a wedding, spring break or a special birthday party. It puts life on hold. But even worse, for people at higher risk for complications it can be very serious, even life threatening. Stay healthy and help keep the people closest to you healthy too by getting a seasonal flu vaccine. Even if the vaccine isn’t a perfect match with the circulating flu viruses, it’s still the best way to prevent getting the flu. Be sure to wash your hands frequently. If you do get sick, remember to cough into your arm or elbow, and stay home so you don’t spread the illness to others.
What is influenza?
Influenza is commonly referred to as the “flu”. It is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs. The flu 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.
What are the symptoms of flu?
Symptoms of flu may include fever (though not everyone with flu will have a fever), cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, fatigue (tiredness), chills, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting. Symptoms usually appear 1 to 3 days after exposure. Although most people are ill for less than a week, some people have complications and may need to be hospitalized.
Who gets influenza?
Influenza can infect persons of all ages. The flu can be especially serious for babies, children, pregnant women, adults 65 years and older, people with certain long-term medical conditions (e.g., lung disease, heart disease, cancer, or diabetes), or those with weak immune systems. However, even healthy people can get the flu and should protect themselves by getting the flu vaccine every year.
How is it spread?
The flu virus spreads easily in discharges from the nose and throat of an infected person. It is often spread by coughing, sneezing or talking. A person might also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has the flu virus on it, and then touching his or her own mouth, eyes or nose.
When and for how long is a person able to spread the disease?
Influenza can spread from one person to another beginning one day before symptoms start up to five to seven days after becoming sick. This means that 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. If you have the flu, make sure you stay at home and away from school, work, or other activities until you are fever-free for 24 hours (without the use of a medicine to reduce your fever).
Who should be vaccinated against influenza?
The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine every year. Everyone age 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine. It’s especially important that certain people get vaccinated either because they are at high risk of having serious flu-related complications or because they live with or care for people at high risk for developing flu-related complications.
The influenza vaccine is updated every year to provide protection from the flu viruses that are likely to be circulating and causing disease. Also, your body’s level of immunity from a vaccine received last flu season is expected to have declined. Getting vaccinated every year before influenza activity begins in your community can help protect you during the flu season. The best time to get vaccinated is as soon as the vaccine is available. However, it’s never too late to get vaccinated.
Flu vaccines protect against multiple strains of influenza. Even if the vaccine is not a “perfect” match to all the circulating flu strains, the vaccine can still offer some protection, and may help to prevent complications or severe illness if flu illness does occur.
Infants younger than 6 months are too young to get a flu vaccine, but they are at higher risk for complications, hospitalization and death from the flu. Therefore, it is especially important that family members and other people who care for young infants get vaccinated to help ensure that they don’t spread the infection to them.
There are some people who should not get a flu vaccine, for instance, people who have had a severe reaction to a flu vaccine or any of its components in the past. For more information about who should and who should not get vaccinated, visit: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/whoshouldvax.htm.
Who is at high risk for developing flu complications?
The flu is a serious disease, especially for certain age groups and people with certain chronic health conditions, such as:
The flu can lead to complications such as pneumonia and bronchitis and can make chronic health problems worse. To help prevent the spread of the flu, those who live with people in a high-risk group and healthcare workers who provide care to high-risk patients should also receive an annual influenza vaccine.
Can the flu vaccine give me the flu?
The flu vaccine cannot give you the flu. The viruses contained in flu vaccines are weakened or inactivated (killed), meaning they cannot cause the full-blown illness. The most common side effect of the injectable flu vaccine is soreness at the spot where the shot was given. Persons who receive the nasal spray may experience a runny nose or headache.
If you get flu-like symptoms soon after getting vaccinated, it can mean you may have been exposed to the flu before you received your vaccine, or during the two-week period it takes the body to gain protection after vaccination. It might also mean you are sick with another illness that causes symptoms similar to the flu.For more information about the flu and the benefits of the flu vaccine, talk to your health care provider or contact your local health department.
Where can I get a flu vaccination?
For more information on influenza in Virginia including information in other languages: www.vdh.virginia.gov/epidemiology/flu.