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Frequently Asked Questions (Seasonal Flu)
 
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red bullet What is influenza (also called flu)?
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year.

 
red bullet What are the signs and symptoms of flu?

People who have the flu often feel some or all of these signs and symptoms:

  • Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (very tired)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
* It is important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

red bullet How does flu spread?
Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk.  These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby.  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 possibly their nose.

 
red bullet How long is someone contagious if they have the flu?
You may be able to pass the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.  Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick.  Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune symptoms, might be able to infect others for an even longer time.

 
red bullet How can I prevent the flu?

The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine each season. There are two types of flu vaccines:

  • “Flu shots” — inactivated vaccines (containing killed virus) that are given with a needle. There are three flu shots being produced for the United States market now.
    • The regular seasonal flu shot is “intramuscular” which means it is injected into muscle (usually in the upper arm). It has been used for decades and is approved for use in people 6 months of age and older, including healthy people, people with chronic medical conditions and pregnant women. Regular flu shots make up the bulk of the vaccine supply produced for the United States.
    • A hi-dose vaccine for people 65 and older which also is intramuscular. This vaccine was first made available during the 2010-2011 season.
    • An intradermal vaccine for people 18 to 64 years of age which is injected with a needle into the “dermis” or skin. This vaccine is being made available for the first time for the 2011-2012 season.
  • The nasal-spray flu vaccine — a vaccine made with live, weakened flu viruses that is given as a nasal spray (sometimes called LAIV for “Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine”). The viruses in the nasal spray vaccine do not cause the flu. LAIV is approved for use in healthy* people 2 to 49 years of age who are not pregnant.

About two weeks after vaccination, antibodies develop that protect against influenza virus infection. Flu vaccines will not protect against flu-like illnesses caused by non-influenza viruses.

The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the three influenza viruses that research suggests will be most common.

 
red bullet Who should get vaccinated for flu?
Everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine each year. This recommendation has been in place since February 24, 2010 when CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted for “universal” flu vaccination in the U.S. to expand protection against the flu to more people. While everyone should get a flu vaccine each flu season, it’s especially important that certain people get vaccinated either because they are at high risk of having serious flu-related complications or because they live with or care for people at high risk for developing flu-related complications.