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Let's Talk About...Flu

Let's Talk About…the Flu
Cover Your NoseBelow are answers to frequently asked questions related to the flu and the flu vaccine. Check out our video Stay Healthy During the Flu Season.

What is influenza?
Influenza is a contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus which infects many parts of the body, including the lungs. Someone who has the flu spreads the virus by sneezing, coughing, or even talking. Flu may be transmitted by direct hand contact.

Influenza is a contagious respiratory disease caused by a virus which infects many parts of the body, including the lungs. Someone who has the flu spreads the virus by sneezing, coughing, or even talking. Flu may be transmitted by direct hand contact.

What happens when you get the flu?
The whole body suffers from it. Typical symptoms include:

  • fever, chills, weakness, loss of appetite, and aching of the head, back, arms, legs.
  • also, may have a sore throat and a dry cough, nausea, and burning eyes.
  • temperature may rise to 104° F, but after two or three days the fever goes away.
  • often the person continues to feel tired and sick for several days.
  • sometimes the person can have complications, such as dehydration or pneumonia.

Is the flu considered serious?

  • For healthy children and adults, influenza is typically a moderately severe illness. Most people are back on their feet within a week.
  • For people who have chronic health problems such as diabetes, asthma, heart or lung problems, influenza can be very severe and even fatal. These people are often considered to be at high risk.

Why should people get the vaccinated against the flu?
Influenza is a serious disease, and people of any age can get it. In an average year, the flu causes 36,000 deaths (mostly among those aged 65 years or older) and more than 200,000 hospitalizations in the United States. The "flu season" in the United States is usually from November through April each year. During this time, flu viruses are circulating in the population. An annual flu vaccine (either the flu shot or the nasal-spray flu vaccine) is the best way to reduce the chances that you will get the flu.  

If I can't get a flu shot, what can I do to protect myself?
Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.  If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.  Eating a balanced diet, getting enough sleep, and exercise may help reduce susceptibility to the flu and other infections.  Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.  Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs.  Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.

Who gets the flu?
Anyone can get the flu.

Who is "high risk"?
People who are described by or have the following are at "high risk":

  • chronic lung disease such as asthma
  • emphysema
  • chronic bronchitis
  • bronchiectasis
  • tuberculosis
  • cystic fibrosis
  • heart disease
  • chronic kidney disease
  • diabetes
  • chronic metabolic disorders
  • severe anemia
  • diseases or treatments that depress immunity
  • residing in a nursing home or other chronic care facility
    age over 65 years
  • physician, nurse, or other provider of care to high-risk persons
    pregnant women who will be in their second or third trimester during the flu season.

Will there be any clinics this year?
Flu shot clinics will be announced in the media. During this flu season, we strongly encourage people to follow the prevention messages on this web site to avoid contracting the flu.

What about reactions to the vaccine?

  • Most people have little or no reaction to the vaccine.
  • One in four might have a swollen, red, tender area where the vaccination was given.
  • A much smaller number, more children than grownups, might also develop a slight fever within 24 hours and many have chills, headache, or feel a little sick.
  • People who already have a respiratory disease may find their symptoms worsened. Usually none of these reactions lasts for more than a couple of days.
  • Allergies.
  • Adverse reactions to the vaccine have been observed in some people. These could be due to an egg protein allergy, since the egg in which the virus is grown cannot be completely extracted. These people should be vaccinated only if their own physician believes it necessary and if the vaccine is given under close observation by a physician.

Will the vaccine protect me from the Bird Flu?
There currently is no commercially available vaccine to protect humans against the H5N1 virus that is being seen in Asia and Europe. However, vaccine development efforts are taking place. Research studies to test a vaccine to protect humans against H5N1 virus began in April 2005, and a series of clinical trials is underway. For more information about the H5N1 vaccine development process, visit the National Institutes of Health website.

How are flu and its complications prevented?

A vaccination encourages the body's immune system to develop and immunity to the influenza virus types in the vaccine.

A vaccination encourages the body's immune system to develop and immunity to the influenza virus types in the vaccine.
  • Influenza vaccines are made yearly, so they contain influenza viruses expected that year.
  • Someone vaccinated can not get influenza from the vaccine.
  • A prescription drug Amantadine can be used before flu symptoms start, as a preventive. For prevention it must be taken daily as long as flu cases continue to occur in a community.

How are flu and its complications treated?

For uncomplicated flu, your doctor will probably tell you to stay in bed at home as long as the sickness is severe and perhaps for about two days after the fever is gone.

For uncomplicated flu, your doctor will probably tell you to stay in bed at home as long as the sickness is severe and perhaps for about two days after the fever is gone.
  • Amantadine is useful for treating someone who has just come down with influenza A. Your doctor decides whether to use Amantadine either for prevention or treatment.
  • Amantadine sometimes causes side effects such as difficulty in sleeping, shaking, or depression; these are usually mild and often go away even when the medicine is continued. The treatment of complications varies with the illness. If you should develop a complication, see your doctor.

Can you have a recurrence of flu?
A person can have influenza more than once. Here's why:

  • The virus that causes influenza may belong to 1 of 3 different flu virus families. Influenza A and influenza B are the major families.
  • Within each flu virus family there are many viral strains.
  • Both A and B strains cause illnesses of varying severity. The influenza A family has more virulent strains than the B family.

Where can I get brochures and more info?

Please see our Flu Toolkit for brochures, posters, videos and sample tweets to share.

Please see our for brochures, posters, videos and sample tweets to share.


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