What is influenza?

Influenza (also called “the flu”) is a viral infection in the nose, throat and lungs. About 10% to 20% of Americans get the flu each year. Some people can get very sick from the flu. Each year, about 200,000 people go to a hospital with the flu, and 36,000 people die because of the flu and complications.
The flu may cause fever, cough, sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, headache, muscle aches and tiredness. Most people feel better after 1 or 2 weeks, but for some people, the flu leads to serious diseases, such as pneumonia. The influenza vaccine can help protect you from getting the flu.

Who is at higher risk?

The following people have a higher risk of flu complications:
  • All children from 6 months up to 19 years of age
  • All adults 50 years of age and older
  • All women who are or will be pregnant during the flu season
  • People who are living in nursing homes or long-term-care facilities
  • Individuals who have long-term health problems
  • Health care workers who have direct contact with patients
  • Caregivers and household contacts of children less than 6 months of age

How can I avoid getting the flu?

The best way to avoid getting the flu is to get the influenza vaccine. You should get the vaccine as soon as it becomes available each fall, but you can also get it any time throughout the flu season (into December, January and beyond). The vaccine is available by shot or by nasal spray. The vaccines work by exposing your immune system to the flu virus. Your body will build up antibodies to the virus to protect you from getting the flu. The flu shot contains dead viruses. The nasal-spray vaccine contains live but weakened viruses. You cannot get the flu from the flu shot or the nasal-spray vaccine.

You can also reduce your risk of catching the flu by washing your hands frequently, which stops the spread of germs. Eating healthy, exercising and getting enough sleep also play a part in preventing the flu because they help boost your immune system.

If you are sick, make sure that you cover your mouth when you cough and wash your hands often to prevent giving the flu to others.

Some people who get the vaccine will still get the flu, but they will usually get a milder case than people who aren’t vaccinated. The vaccine is especially recommended for people who are more likely to get really sick from flu-related complications.

Should I get the flu vaccine?

Yes. All persons who are 6 months of age or older should get the flu vaccine as long as there are no contraindications.

Is there anyone who shouldn’t get the flu shot?

Yes. The following people should talk to their doctor before getting the flu shot:
  • People who have had an allergic reaction to a flu shot in the past
  • People who have an allergy to eggs
  • People who previously developed Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a reversible reaction that causes partial or complete loss of movement of muscles, weakness or a tingling sensation in the body) within 6 weeks of getting a flu shot
  • Children younger than 6 months of age
  • People who have a moderate or severe illness with a fever should wait until they feel better before receiving the flu shot

If I get the flu vaccine, can I still get the flu?

Yes. Even with a flu vaccine, you aren’t 100% protected. Each year, the flu vaccine contains 3 different strains (kinds) of the virus. The strains chosen are those that scientists believe are most likely to show up in the United States that year. If the choice is right, the vaccine is 70% to 90% effective in preventing the flu in healthy adults. If you’re older than 65 years of age, the vaccine is less likely to prevent the flu. Even if you get the flu after being vaccinated, your flu symptoms should be milder than if you didn’t get the vaccine. You’ll also be less likely to get complications from the flu.

Is the vaccine safe?

Yes. The flu vaccine is safe. There are very few side effects. If you got the flu shot, your arm may be sore for a few days. You may have a fever, feel tired or have sore muscles for a short time. If you got the nasal-spray vaccine, you may have a runny nose, headache, cough or sore throat.

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