The flu (influenza) is caused by a virus that is easily spread. It can be a lot more serious than you think, especially for people 50 or older. A flu shot protects you and those around you from the flu.
While timing of the flu varies and is sometimes unpredictable, seasonal flu activity usually begins in October before peaking in January or February and ending as late as May. It's best to get a flu shot each fall before flu season starts. You can get a flu shot at your doctor's office or a health clinic. Drugstores, senior centers, and workplaces often offer flu shots, too.
If you have questions, ask your healthcare provider. And remember: A flu shot could save your life! Influenza links and resources:
The flu shot will not give you the flu.
The flu can be dangerous-even life-threatening. Every year, about 36,000 people die of complications from the flu.
The flu is caused by a virus. It can't be treated with antibiotics.
Influenza is not the same as "stomach flu," the 24-hour bug that causes vomiting and diarrhea. This is most likely due to a GI (gastrointestinal) infection-not the flu.
You need to get a flu shot each year. Last year's shot will not protect you from this year's flu.
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Flu symptoms tend to come on quickly. Fever, headache, fatigue, cough, sore throat, runny nose, and muscle aches are symptoms of the flu. Upset stomach and vomiting are not common for adults. Some symptoms, such as fatigue and cough, may last a few weeks.
Fever and body aches usually last for three to five days, but cough and fatigue may last for two weeks or more. Although nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may accompany the flu, these gastrointestinal symptoms are rarely prominent.
Treatment for influenza Specific treatment for influenza will be determined by your doctor based on:
Your age, overall health, and medical history
Extent and type of influenza, and severity of symptoms
Your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
Expectations for the course of the disease
Your opinion or preference
Treatment may include:
Medications to relieve aches and fever. Aspirin should not be given to children with fever without first consulting a doctor. The drug of choice for children is acetaminophen (Tylenol).
Medications for congestion and nasal discharge
Bed rest and increased intake of fluids
Antiviral medications. When started within the first two days of treatment, they can reduce the duration of the disease but cannot cure it. Four medications have been approved and include amantadine, rimantadine, zanamivir, and oseltamivir. Some side effects may result from taking these medications, such as nervousness, lightheadedness, or nausea. Individuals with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are cautioned about using zanamivir. Viral resistance to these drugs may vary. Some drugs may be ineffective if current viral strains have developed resistance. All of these medications must be prescribed by a doctor.
How a Flu Shot Protects You A new influenza vaccine is introduced each September.There are many strains (types) of flu viruses, so medical experts predict which 3 strains are most likely to make people sick each year. Flu shots are made from these strains. Everyone who is at least 6 months old should get a flu vaccine this season. When you get a flu shot, inactivated ("killed") flu viruses are injected into your body. These cannot give you the flu. But they do prompt your body to make antibodies to fight these flu strains. If you're exposed to the same strains later in the flu season, the antibodies will fight off the germs. According to the CDC, "influenza vaccine produced in the United States has never been capable of causing influenza because the only type of influenza vaccine that has been licensed in the United States to the present time is made from killed influenza viruses, which cannot cause infection."
People 50 or Older Should Get Flu Shots If you're 50 or older, you should get a flu shot, especially if you're in any of these high-risk groups:
Other Groups That Should Be Vaccinated
Children and adolescents 6 months to 19 years old
Adults and children who have chronic disorders of the pulmonary or cardiovascular systems, including children with asthma
Adults and children who have the following medical conditions:
Chronic metabolic diseases, such as diabetes
Hemoglobinopathies, such as sickle cell disease
Children and teenagers ages 6 months to 19 years receiving long-term aspirin therapy
Household members, including children, of people high-risk groups
People of any age who wish to decrease their chances of influenza infection, except for people who are allergic to eggs
Who Can't Get a Flu Shot?
A person who has a high fever (the shot can be given after the fever goes away)
When Should I Get a Flu Shot?
The CDC recommends getting the flu shot every year, as soon as it becomes available in your community. Flu season can begin as early as October and most commonly peaks in the U.S. in January or February, but flu seasons are unpredictable. The flu shot takes one to two weeks to become effective.
Although there are many new medications designed to treat flu symptoms and even shorten the duration of the illness, the flu vaccine still offers the best protection against the flu.
What About the Nasal Vaccine?
A nasal-spray flu vaccine, called FluMist, is currently approved to prevent flu due to influenza A and B viruses in healthy children and adolescents ages 2 to 17, and healthy adults ages 18 to 49. As with other live virus vaccines, FluMist should not be given for any reason to pregnant women and people with immune suppression, including those with immune deficiency diseases, such as AIDS or cancer, and people who are being treated with medications that cause immunosuppression. FluMist also should not be given to the following groups of people:
So it may be an option for others in your family, but not for you.
Is Traveling Safe During the Flu Season? Because the flu is a highly contagious infection usually spread by droplets produced by an infected person who is coughing or sneezing, travelers are very susceptible to contracting the flu.
The CDC recommends that travelers have the flu vaccine at least two weeks in advance of planned travel to allow time to develop protective immunity. There are other anti-viral drugs available to help prevent viral infections and complications. Consult your doctor for more information.