Flu Season Is Here Again

How Serious is the Flu?

Each year in the United States, on average:

  • 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu;
  • More than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications, and;
  • About 36,000 people die from flu.

Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications.

What is Flu?

Influenza (“flu”) is a contagious disease caused by the influenza virus, which spreads from infected persons to the nose or throat of others. Flu symptoms range from mild to severe.  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. Influenza can be very dangerous for the elderly.

What are the Symptoms of Flu?

The symptoms of the flu include:

  • fever
  • chills
  • cough
  • muscle aches
  • sore throat
  • fatigue
  • headache

How Does Flu Spread?

Flu viruses spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing of people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 days after becoming sick. That 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.

What is the Best Prevention?

The single best way to protect against the flu is to get vaccinated each year. Yearly flu vaccination should begin in September or as soon as the vaccine is available and continue throughout the influenza season (December, January, and beyond). This is because the timing and duration of influenza seasons vary.

What is the Vaccine?

There are two types of vaccines, the flu “shot” and a nasal spray. The viruses in the vaccine change each year based on scientists’ estimations about which types and strains of viruses will circulate in a given year. The flu shot is the form of the vaccine that is recommended for elderly persons. The two types of vaccines are:

  • The “flu shot” is an inactivated vaccine (containing killed virus) that is given with a needle, usually in the arm. The flu shot is approved for use in people 6 months of age and older, including healthy people and people with chronic medical conditions. You cannot get the flu from a flu shot.
  • The nasal-spray flu vaccine – a vaccine made with live, weakened flu viruses that do not cause the flu (sometimes called LAIV for “Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine”). LAIV is approved for use in “healthy” people 2-49 years of age who are not pregnant. “Healthy” indicates persons who do not have an underlying medical condition that predisposes them to influenza complications.

About two weeks after vaccination, antibodies develop that protect against influenza virus infection. Flu vaccines will not protect against flu-like illnesses caused by non-influenza viruses.

Who Should Get Vaccinated?

In general, anyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting the flu can get vaccinated. However, certain people should get vaccinated each year either because they are at high risk of having serious flu-related complications or because they live with or care for high risk persons. During flu seasons when vaccine supplies are limited or delayed, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) makes recommendations regarding priority groups for vaccination.

People who should get vaccinated each year are:

  1. Children aged 6 months up to their 19th birthday
  2. Pregnant women
  3. People 50 years of age and older
  4. People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions
  5. People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  6. People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including:
    • Health care workers
    • Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu
    • Household contacts

Who Should Not Be Vaccinated?

Some people should not be vaccinated without first consulting a physician. They include:

  1. People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs.
  2. People who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination in the past.
  3. People who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) within 6 weeks of getting an influenza vaccine previously.
  4. Children less than 6 months of age (influenza vaccine is not approved for use in this age group).
  5. People who have a moderate or severe illness with a fever should wait to get vaccinated until their symptoms lessen.

If you have questions about whether you should get a flu vaccine, consult your health-care provider.

Will I Feel Side Effects from the Vaccine?

Some minor side effects that could occur are:

  • soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
  • fever (low grade)
  • aches

If these problems occur, they begin soon after the shot and usually last 1 to 2 days. Almost all people who receive influenza vaccine have no serious problems from it.

What should I do next?

In general, anyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting the flu can get vaccinated. However, as mentioned above, there are some people with certain medical conditions who should not receive the vaccine. It is always recommended that you talk to your physician and follow his or her advice before getting a flu shot. You can also obtain more information from the Centers for Disease Control at www.cdc.gov/flu.

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