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Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. Symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuff nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, chills and fatigue (tiredness). Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea. The flu can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to hospitalization or death. Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year.

A yearly flu vaccine is recommended for everyone 6 months and older without an increased risk for a serious adverse reaction. All of the 2017-2018 flu vaccines are made to protect against an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and one or two influenza B viruses, depending on the flu vaccine. Talk with your health care provider about which vaccine is right for you.

How to Protect Yourself

The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine every year.

A yearly flu vaccine is recommended for everyone 6 months and older without an increased risk for a serious adverse reaction. It is 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.

There are three types of flu vaccines:

  • Inactivated Influenza Vaccine (IIV) - an inactivated vaccine (containing killed virus) that is given with a needle. The flu shot is approved for use in people 6 months of age and older, including healthy people, people with chronic medical conditions and pregnant women.
  • Recombinant Influenza Vaccine (RIV) - a vaccine that does not use flu viruses or chicken eggs in its manufacturing process. RIV is also given with a needle and is approved for use in adults 18 years and older. This is the only vaccine currently available that is completely egg free.
  • Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine (LAIV) - a vaccine made with live, weakened flu viruses that do not cause the flu and is given intranasally (also known as the “nasal spray” vaccine). LAIV is approved for use in healthy people 2-49 years of age who are not pregnant. NOTE: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommend that LAIV should not be used during the 2017-2018 flu season due to concerns about poor vaccine effectiveness.

You should receive a flu vaccine by the end of October, if possible. Vaccination should continue to be offered as long as flu viruses are circulating, even in January or later. While seasonal flu outbreaks can happen as early as October, during most seasons flu activity peaks in January or later. It is best to get vaccinated before flu viruses start to spread in your community since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the flu.

For more information about seasonal flu vaccines, visit Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine.

How To Protect You and Your Family from the Flu

  • Get the Flu Vaccine
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and throw the tissue in the trash after using it. If you do not have a tissue, cover your coughs and sneezes with the inside of your elbow, not your bare hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • If you are sick with flu-like illness, it is recommended that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
  • While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.

Prevention Tips

What to Do if You Think You Have the Flu

Your illness might be the flu if you have fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills or fatigue (tiredness). Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea. People may be infected with the flu and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.

If you develop flu-like symptoms and are concerned about your illness, especially if you are at high risk for complications of the flu, you should consult your health care provider. It is very difficult to distinguish the flu from other infections on the basis of symptoms alone. Most people with the flu have mild illness and do not need medical care. However, if you have symptoms of flu and are in a high risk group, or are very sick and worried about your illness, contact your health care provider. There are tests that can determine if you have the flu. There are also drugs your doctor may prescribe for treating the flu called antivirals.

If you get the flu, get plenty of rest, drink a lot of liquids, and avoid using alcohol and tobacco. Also, you can take medications such as Tylenol to relieve the fever and muscle aches associated with the flu. Never give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms, particularly fever. Stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine, except to get medical care or other necessities.

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