Influenza (also known as the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. Two basic types of virus circulate in the United States, group A and group B. Influenza A may cause moderate to severe illness in all age groups and infects humans and other animals. Influenza B causes milder symptoms and affects only humans, primarily children.
The flu is spread through:
The air from the respiratory tract of a person who has the flu, like through coughing and sneezing
Example: Somebody near you coughs or sneezes without covering it and then you breathe in the droplets from their cough or sneeze
By direct contact with respiratory droplets
Example: Somebody sneezes into their hand and touches a door knob, hand rail, telephone, etc. and then you touch the object. Now your hand has the virus on it and if you touch your eyes, nose or mouth the virus can get into your body and make you sick
To protect yourself, and others, from the flu it's important to:
Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue (be sure to throw away any used tissues)
Cough or sneeze into your elbow
Wash your hands often
- sudden fever
- aching muscles
- sore throat
- dry cough
- runny nose
- burning sensation in the chest
- eye pain
- sensitivity to light
- Home flu care
The best way to protect yourself, and others, from the flu is to get vaccinated. You can be vaccinated any time during the flu season. This year’s flu vaccine includes three different strains of the flu virus, including the 2009 H1N1 virus. A new vaccine is also available that includes four different strains of the flu virus.
It takes about two weeks for your body to protect itself from the flu after you are vaccinated, so the earlier you get vaccinated, the better. Vaccine is usually available by the middle of September every year.
Whether you get the flu vaccine or not, there are ways you can avoid the flu and stay healthy:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, stay away from others to protect them from getting sick, too.
- Stay home when you are sick. If you can, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.
- Wash your hands often, especially before eating or after touching common surfaces like door knobs or hand rails.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Get care early. See your healthcare provider immediately if you develop flu symptoms; antiviral medications can help if taken early in the illness.
The CDC is encouraging all people over the age of 6 months old to be vaccinated for the flu.
Some groups are more likely to have complications from the seasonal flu. These include:
- Those age 65 and older
- Children younger than 2 years old
- People of any age who have chronic medical conditions (e.g. diabetes, asthma, congestive heart failure, lung disease)
- Pregnant women
Each year, millions of Americans safely receive seasonal flu vaccines. The benefits of immunization outweigh the risks. All vaccines, including the flu vaccine, are held to the highest standard of safety and are continually monitored. This year, a new vaccine, FluBlok, is available so people with egg allergies can get vaccinated for the flu.
Not getting vaccinated could result in disease or putting others, such as babies or people with cancer, at serious risk for illness. If you care for a young baby it’s important that you get vaccinated so you can protect them.
Seasonal influenza vaccinations usually begin the middle of September each year. Availability of vaccine depends on FDA licensing and ability of manufacturers to ship vaccine to providers. Most health care providers and community based vaccinators would not be able to administer influenza vaccine until that time.