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Flu Vaccine & Prevention

What You Should Know About Flu and How to Prevent It

(Adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

What is the Flu?

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Every year in the United States, 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications, and approximately 36,000 people die from the flu. Some of the complications caused by the flu include bacterial pneumonia, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes. Children may get sinus problems and ear infections.

Symptoms of Flu

Symptoms of flu include:

  • fever (usually high)
  • headache
  • extreme tiredness
  • dry cough
  • sore throat
  • runny or stuffy nose, and muscle aches
  • Gastro-intestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, are much more common among children than adults.

How Flu Spreads

The flu spreads in respiratory droplets caused by coughing and sneezing. It usually spreads from person to person, though occasionally a person may become infected by touching something with a virus on it and then touching their mouth or nose. Adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before getting symptoms and up to seven days after getting sick. That means that you can give someone the flu before you know you're sick as well as while you are sick.

Preventing the Flu

The single best way to prevent the flu, even in healthy people, is to get a flu vaccine each fall. However, you're not helpless when it comes to practicing certain good health habits that can prevent the flu:

  • Good health habits include avoiding close contact: If possible, avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.

  • Stay home when you are sick. If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from you catching your illness.

  • Cover your mouth and nose. If you can't stay home, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing or catch your cough by coughing into your upper sleeve, not your hands. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.

  • Clean your hands. Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. This measure may be the single best healthy habit that one can acquire.

  • 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.

What You Should Do If You Get the Flu

  • Rest
  • Drink plenty of liquids
  • Avoid using alcohol and tobacco
  • Take limited, over-the-counter medication to relieve the symptoms of flu. Influenza is caused by a virus, so antibiotics (like penicillin) don't work to cure it.

The Myth of the 'Stomach Flu'

Many people use the term 'stomach flu' to describe illnesses with nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. These symptoms can be caused by many different viruses, bacteria, or even parasites. While vomiting, diarrhea, and being nauseous or 'sick to your stomach' can sometimes be related to the flu -- particularly in children -- these problems are rarely the main symptoms of influenza. The flu is a respiratory disease and not a stomach or intestinal disease.