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.
The flu may cause fever, cough, sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, headache, muscle aches, and tiredness. Most people feel better after 1 to 2 weeks. However, for some people the flu leads to serious diseases, such as pneumonia. The influenza vaccine can help protect you from getting the flu.
The following people have a higher risk of flu complications:
The best way to avoid getting the flu is to get the flu vaccine every year. 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 (usually until March). The vaccine is available by shot or by nasal spray. However, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommend the nasal-spray vaccine should not be used for the 2016-2017 flu season. Data from the CDC and other groups showed poor or relatively lower effectiveness of the nasal spray vaccine during previous flu seasons.
When they are most effective, vaccines work by exposing your immune system to an inactive form of the flu virus. Your body will build up antibodies to the virus to protect you from getting the flu. The nasal- spray vaccine contains active, 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 may get a milder case than people who are not vaccinated.
Yes. All persons who are six months of age or older should get the flu vaccine.
Yes. The following people should talk to their doctor before getting the flu shot:
Yes. The following people should talk to their doctor before getting the nasal-spray vaccine:
While the people listed above should always ask their doctor about the nasal-spray vaccine, the CDC recommend the nasal-spray vaccine should not be used by anyone for the 2016-2017 flu season. Data from the CDC and other groups showed poor or relatively lower effectiveness of the nasal-spray vaccine during previous flu seasons.
Yes. Even with a flu vaccine, you aren't 100% protected. Each year, the flu vaccine contains 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 can be as much as 70 to 90% effective in preventing the flu in healthy adults. Even if you get the flu after being vaccinated, your flu symptoms can be milder than if you didn't get the vaccine. You'll also reduce your risk of complications from the flu.
Yes. The flu vaccine is safe. There are very few side effects. If you received the flu shot, your arm may be sore for a few days. You may have a low grade fever, feel tired, or have sore muscles for a short time. If you received the nasal-spray vaccine, you may have a runny nose, headache, cough, or sore throat.
If you are pregnant during flu season, you cannot get the nasal- spray vaccine. However, it is recommended that women who will be pregnant during flu season get the shot. Pregnancy can increase your risk for complications from the flu.
It is also safe to get the flu shot while breastfeeding your baby. The flu shot cannot cause your nursing baby to get sick.
Antiviral flu drugs are prescription medicines that can be used to help treat the flu. If you take one of these drugs within two days of getting sick, it can lessen your symptoms, decrease the amount of time you are sick, and make you less contagious to other people. However, most healthy people who have the flu get better without using an antiviral flu drug. Your doctor will decide whether one of these medicines is right for you.
For more information, you can call the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Immunization Information Hotline at these numbers:
Lowering the Age for Routine Influenza Vaccination to 50 Years: AAFP Leads the Nation in Influenza Vaccine Policy by RK Zimmerman, M.D., M.P.H. (American Family Physician November 01, 1999, http://www.aafp.org/afp/991101ap/2061.html)
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff