What is influenza (flu)?
Flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The best way to prevent flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year.
Influenza (flu) can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Flu is different from a cold. Flu usually comes on suddenly. People who have flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:
- Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults
*It’s important to note that not everyone with the flu will have a fever.
How Flu Spreads
Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by tiny droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might get the flu by touching a surface or object that has the flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes.
How can you prevent the Flu?
The first and most important step in preventing flu is to get a flu vaccine each year. Flu vaccine has been shown to reduce flu related illnesses and the risk of serious flu complications that can result in hospitalization or even death. The CDC also recommends everyday preventive actions (like staying away from people who are sick, covering coughs and sneezes and frequent handwashing) to help slow the spread of germs that cause respiratory (nose, throat, and lungs) illnesses, like flu.
Who needs a flu shot?
The influenza vaccine can prevent thousands of hospitalizations each year. According to the CDC, during 2018-2019 flu vaccinations prevented about 58,000 flu-related hospitalizations. In recent years flu vaccinations have reduced flu-related hospitalizations in older adults by 40% and a more recent study showed an 82% reduction in flu-related intensive care unit (ICU) admissions among adults.
Individuals who still get influenza after receiving the vaccination may still benefit from receiving the vaccination. An example of a possible benefit from the vaccination is a reduction in the severity of the illness including reductions in hospitalizations and deaths.
Timing your flu shot
The influenza season generally starts in late fall and lasts six months or longer, through late spring/early summer. This season, the CDC recommends receiving the vaccine by the end of October.
It takes approximately two weeks for vaccinated individuals to build up an immunity. Therefore, it is important to receive your influenza vaccination prior to influenza spreading throughout the community.
Flu shots are free under nearly all health insurance plans.
For more information about the flu, visit the CDC’s website.