Flu spreads mainly from one person to another when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes on or near others. Since influenza viruses can live on objects for as long as 8 hours, the flu may also be transmitted by touching something with a virus on it, like a pole or armrest, and then touching one’s mouth, eyes or nose.
Flu symptoms are typically worse than the common cold and can include a high fever, headache, dry cough, sore throat, extreme tiredness and muscle aches that can last for up to two weeks. People can be so incapacitated by flu that they cannot work, socialize or take care of their children.
To protect against the flu, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendsannual influenza vaccination for all people who want to avoid the disease, but especially for children and youth ages six months through18 years; people ages 50 or older; individuals with chronic illnesses such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease or HIV/AIDS; and pregnant women. Because infants younger than six months of age are too young for vaccination, CDC encourages all family members and caregivers of the infant to get the flu vaccine to provide a protective “cocoon” around the baby.
It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the body to build immunity to the flu viruses in the vaccine. That’s why it is important to get vaccinated as soon as the vaccine becomes available. If, however, vaccination is not possible until after Thanksgiving, it is still beneficial to get vaccinated in December, January or later, as flu season can extend into May.
The flu vaccine is safe and effective and cannot cause the flu. Because influenza viruses are always changing, the influenza vaccine is updated every year. The vaccine includes three different influenza virus strains, new to this year’s vaccine. They are the three main flu strains that research indicates are the most likely to cause illness during this flu season. The vaccine can protect you from getting sick from these three viruses or it can make your illness milder if you get a different flu virus.
To learn when or where to get a flu vaccine, contact your doctor or local health department. Call 1-800-CDC-INFO or visit www.cdc.gov/flu to learn more.