The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. Symptoms include fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, and muscle aches. Although the term "stomach flu" is sometimes used to describe vomiting, nausea, or diarrhea, these illnesses are caused by other viruses or bacteria and are rarely related to influenza. In the United States, influenza is associated with approximately 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations each year.
Everyone 6 months and older should get a flu shot as soon as vaccine is available each flu season. Seasonal flu vaccine is designed to protect against three different flu viruses: an H3N2 virus, an influenza B virus and the H1N1 virus. Unlike other vaccine preventable diseases, genetic changes of these types of flu each occur each year making it is necessary to receive a new influenza vaccine at the start of each flu season. People at high risk for complications from influenza include:
- Children aged 6 months to 18 years of age,
- Pregnant women,
- People 50 years of age and older,
- People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions, and
- People who live in nursing homes and other long term care facilities.
People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu (see above), household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age, and health care workers should also be vaccinated.
There are some individuals that are not recommended to get the flu vaccine:
- People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs,
- People who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination,
- People who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS)within 6 weeks of getting an influenza vaccine,
- Children less than 6 months of age (influenza vaccine is not approved for this age group), and
- People who have a moderate-to-severe illness with a fever (they should wait until they recover to get vaccinated.
In addition to getting vaccinated, it is also important to remember that practicing good health habits such as hand washing and covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing may also prevent the spread of influenza. Visit our resources section below for more information on seasonal influenza.
Seasonal Influenza Resources: