This blog is adapted from a blog originally posted on Public Health Matters November 20, 2013, by Dr. Michael Jhung, Medical Officer with CDC’s Influenza Division.
Flu activity is currently low in the United States, but is expected to increase in the coming weeks, making now a great time to prepare. Flu infects millions of people every flu season and causes an estimated 200,000-plus people in the U.S. to be hospitalized each year.
CDC wants you to be prepared to fight the flu this season—and if you do get the flu, we want you to know when to seek medical care.
How do flu viruses spread?
Flu is typically spread by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze, or talk. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or nose.
How serious is the flu?
Flu severity can vary widely from one season to the next and from person to person depending on many factors like what flu viruses are spreading, the health and age of the people exposed to flu, and how many people get vaccinated.
Certain people are at greater risk for serious complications if they get the flu—for example, older people, young children, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease). But flu can be serious for anyone, so it’s important to take as many steps to prevent infection as you can.
What’s the best way to prevent getting the flu?
Yearly vaccination is the first and best way to protect against flu. Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, missed work due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations and deaths. Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine.
Even if you got vaccinated last year, you should still get a flu vaccine this year. This is because the vaccines are updated each year to fight against the flu viruses that research shows will cause the most illness among people during the upcoming flu season. Flu vaccines aren’t perfect, but are still the first and best line of defense against the flu. If you haven’t gotten your flu vaccine yet this season, now’s a good time to get one.
What’s one of the biggest myths about the flu vaccine?
Many people mistakenly believe that the flu vaccine can give you the flu. The flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness. The viruses in the vaccine are either killed (flu shot) or weakened (nasal spray vaccine), which means they cannot cause infection. The most common side effects from a flu shot are a sore arm and maybe a low fever or achiness. The nasal spray flu vaccine might cause congestion, runny nose, sore throat, or cough. If you do experience them at all, these side effects are mild and short-lived.
In addition to getting the flu vaccine, what else can people do to prevent the flu?
Practice good health habits! Cover your mouth when you cough, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth, and wash your hands often. These small steps can help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses like the flu.
It’s also important to avoid or limit close contact with sick people. If you do get sick, stay home from work or school for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, except to get medical care.
If someone does get the flu, can it be treated?
Yes, there are prescription medications called antiviral drugs that can be used to treat the flu. Flu antiviral drugs like Tamiflu are medicines that can shorten the time you are sick and lessen symptoms. There is research that shows that these medicines can reduce serious complications from flu, including hospitalization and death. Antiviral drugs work best when started soon after symptoms develop so people with flu-like symptoms—especially high-risk groups like seniors and young children—should seek medical care as soon as possible. It’s important to remember that antivirals are not a substitute for getting a flu vaccine.
What everyday actions do you take to fight flu? ave you gotten your flu vaccine yet? et us know in the comments below.