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Flu Basics


In order to combat the flu virus, it is necessary to understand what it is and what causes it.

What is influenza?
What are common flu symptoms?
What is my risk of getting the flu?
How can I prevent getting the flu?
Who should get vaccinated?
Flu vaccination is HIGHLY recommended for...
Who should NOT receive the vaccine?
When should I get vaccinated?

What is influenza?

Influenza (the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. 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.

What are common flu symptoms?

People infected with the flu virus may experience some or all of the following symptoms:

  • Headaches
  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Muscle aches
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

If you become ill with the flu, it is important to avoid close contact with others and stay at home. If you feel that your symptoms are getting worse or if you are a high-risk individual, you should seek medical care as soon as possible.

What is my risk of getting the flu?

In the U.S., 5 to 20 percent of the population gets the flu each year. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized with flu complications; about 36,000 people die. Some people, such as the elderly, young children, and people with certain health conditions are at high risk for serious flu complications.

How can I prevent getting the flu?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu vaccine is the most effective method for preventing and fighting the seasonal flu virus. In addition to vaccination, practicing good health habits may also reduce the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses, like the flu.

  1. Clean your hands.
    Wash your hands with soap and water regularly, especially before eating and after using the bathroom or blowing your nose. If soap and water are not available, clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitizing gel or liquid.
  1. Do not touch your mouth, eyes or nose.
    Germs are easily spread when a person touches something that is contaminated and then touches his or her mouth, eyes or nose.
  1. Cover your mouth and nose.
    When you sneeze or cough, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue. If a tissue is not available, cough or sneeze onto your shirt sleeve. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
  1. Avoid close contact.
    Avoid touching or being in close contact with individuals who are sick.
  1. Stay home.
    When you are sick, you should stay home from work, school and other places where you come into contact with others. This will help prevent others from getting sick.
  1. Keep surfaces clean.
    Clean frequently touched surfaces with a disinfecting cleaner.
  1. Take care of yourself.
    Get plenty of sleep, drink lots of fluids, eat nutritious food, stay physically active, and keep stress low.

Who should get vaccinated?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that EVERYONE six months of age and older get a flu vaccine each year. It is especially important that the groups listed below get vaccinated. These groups are either at high risk for serious flu-related complications or are in close contact with people who are at high risk.

Flu vaccination is HIGHLY recommended for:

  • Pregnant women
  • Children younger than five years old, but especially children younger than two years old
  • People 50 years of age and older
  • People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions, including:
    • Asthma
    • Neurological and neuro-developmental conditions
    • Chronic lung disease
    • Heart disease
    • Blood disorders
    • Endocrine disorders (such as diabetes)
    • Kidney disorders
    • Liver disorders
    • Metabolic disorders
    • Weakened immune system due to disease or medication
    • Morbid obesity
    • Those younger than 19 years of age who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy
  • People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • People who live with or care for those at high risk for flu complications, including:
    • Healthcare workers
    • People in contact with high risk individuals
    • Anyone who cares for children or infants

Who should NOT receive the vaccine?

Talk to your doctor if you:

  • Are allergic to chicken eggs
  • Have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination in the past
  • Developed Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) within six weeks of getting the influenza vaccine
  • Are younger than six months of age
  • Are not feeling well

When should I get vaccinated?

It is recommended that people get vaccinated against the flu as soon as the vaccine becomes available every year. Yearly flu vaccinations typically begin in September and continue throughout December, January and beyond. The timing and duration of influenza season varies. While influenza outbreaks can happen as early as October, most of the time flu activity peaks in January or later.

Please keep in mind, it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the flu.

Reference: Prevention and Control of Influenza, Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on vaccination Practices (ACIP). For more information, visit the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website.

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