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What is the flu?1

The flu (influenza) is a contagious airway infection caused by the influenza virus. People with the flu can spread it to people up to 6 feet away through droplets when they cough, sneeze, or talk. It is also possible for you to get the flu by touching an object that has the virus on it and then touching your mouth, eyes, or nose. People can pass on the flu from 1 day before they get sick and up to 5 – 7 days after.

Who is at risk for getting the flu?2

Anyone can get the flu. Older adults, young children, pregnant women, people living in long-term care facilities, and people with certain health conditions are at higher risk for serious health problems resulting from the flu. Ask your doctor if you have one of these health conditions.

What are some symptoms of the flu?2

The flu can cause a sudden high fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and it can make you feel very tired. It commonly causes children to vomit and have diarrhea. The flu can cause some serious health problems such as other infections and dehydration and it can worsen any health problems you already have.

Who Should Get Vaccinated This Season?6

Everyone who is at least 6 months of age should get a flu vaccine this season. This recommendation has been in place since February 24, 2010 when CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted for “universal” flu vaccination in the United States to expand protection against the flu to more people.

While everyone should get a flu vaccine this season, it’s especially important for some people to get vaccinated.

Those people include the following:

  • People who are at high risk of developing serious complications (like pneumonia) if they get sick with the flu.
    • People who have certain medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, and chronic lung disease.
    • Pregnant women.
    • People younger than 5 years (and especially those younger than 2), and people 65 years and older.
    • A complete list is available at People Who Are at High Risk of Developing Flu-Related Complications.
  • People who live with or care for others who are at high risk of developing serious complications (see list above).
    • Household contacts and caregivers of people with certain medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, and chronic lung disease.
    • Household contacts and caregivers of infants less than 6 months old.
    • Health care personnel.

More information is available at Who Should Get Vaccinated Against Influenza.

Medications5

Your doctor may prescribe a medication that can fight against the flu. These medications are not sold over-the-counter. They can lessen your symptoms, shorten the time you are sick, and may prevent some serious flu complications.  These medications work best when started within 2 days of getting sick, but it can help later as well. These medications are not a substitute for the flu vaccine.

Who should take antivirals?5

Antivirals are important for people who are at high risk for serious health problems from the flu. Others can take antivirals, but most healthy people do not need them.

What antivirals are available to treat and prevent the flu?5

What vaccines are available for the flu?2

  • Regular seasonal flu shot
  • High-dose: made for people over 65 years old
  • Intradermal: injected into the skin
  • Nasal spray: inhaled through the nose. This vaccine does not cause the flu.

Flu season can last from October to May. It is important that you get the vaccine as soon as it is available to make sure you are well protected.

How long does it take for the flu vaccine to start working?2

The protective effect of the flu vaccine usually starts after about two weeks. It is still possible to get the flu if you are exposed to it before that time.

References:

  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Seasonal Influenza (Flu): How Flu Spreads. 2013. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/spread.htm.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Seasonal Influenza (Flu): The Flu: Caring for Someone Sick at Home. 2013. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/homecare/index.htm.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Seasonal Influenza (Flu): CDC Says “Take 3″ Actions To Fight The Flu. 2013. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/preventing.htm.
  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Seasonal Influenza (Flu): What You Should Know About Flu Antiviral Drugs. 2012. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/antivirals/whatyoushould.htm.
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Seasonal Influenza (Flu): Opening and Mixing TamifluĀ® Capsules with Liquids if Child Cannot Swallow Capsules. 2011. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/antivirals/mixing_tamiflu_qa.htm.
  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Key Facts about Influenza (Flu) & Flu Vaccine 2014. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/keyfacts.htm#whoshould1
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