The flu is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. The flu is not the same as a cold, although they share many of the same symptoms. Unlike a cold, an episode of the flu can cause a very severe illness. Serious outcomes of a flu infection can result in hospitalization or death. Young children and seniors are at the greatest risk for serious flu complications. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year.
How Flu Spreads
People with the flu can spread it to others up to about 6 feet away. Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. 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 or nose.
To avoid this, people should stay away from sick people and stay home if sick. It also is important to wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
According to the CDC, adults may be able to infect other people one day before they develop symptoms and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Children may be able to pass along the virus even longer. Symptoms start 1 to 4 days after the virus enters the body. That means that you may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. In addition, some people who are infected may have no symptoms, but can still spread the illness.
Why Get Vaccinated?
- Influenza (the flu) can be a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. Anyone can get very sick from the flu, including people who are otherwise healthy.
- If you get the flu, you can spread it to others even if you don’t feel sick.
- By getting vaccinated, you help protect yourself, your family, your friends and your co-workers.
- Since health care workers may care for or live with people at high risk for influenza-related complications, it is especially important for them to get vaccinated annually.
- Annual vaccination is important because influenza is unpredictable; flu viruses are constantly changing and immunity from vaccination declines over time.
Flu Vaccine Facts.
- The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. Traditional flu vaccines (called trivalent vaccines) are made to protect against three flu viruses: 1. An Influenza A (H1N1) virus, 2. An Influenza A (H3N2) virus and 3. An Influenza B virus. In addition, this season, there are flu vaccines made to protect against four flu viruses (called “quadrivalent” vaccines). These vaccines protect against the same viruses as the trivalent vaccine as well as an additional B virus.
- Flu vaccines CANNOT cause the flu. Flu vaccines that are administered with a needle are currently made in two ways: the vaccine is made either with a) flu vaccine viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ and are therefore not infectious, or b) with no flu viruses at all. The nasal spray flu vaccine does contain live viruses. However, the viruses are weakened and therefore cannot cause flu illness.
- Flu vaccines are safe. Serious problems from the flu vaccine are very rare. The most common side effect that a person is likely to experience is either soreness where the injection was given or runny nose in the case of nasal spray. These side effects are generally mild and usually go away after a day or two.
Flu vaccines aren’t 100 percent effective. According to the CDC, in past flu seasons when the match between flu vaccine and circulating strains of flu virus is close, a flu shot is between 60 and 70 percent effective in warding off influenza in all age groups combined.
- Reaction to the vaccine. Some people experience muscle aches and fever for a day or two after receiving a flu shot. This may be a side effect of your body’s production of protective antibodies. The nasal vaccine can cause runny nose, headache and sore throat.
- The 2-week window. It takes about two weeks for the flu shot to take full effect. If you’re exposed to the influenza virus shortly before or during that time period, you might catch the flu.
- Mismatched flu viruses. In some years, the influenza viruses used for the vaccine don’t match the viruses circulating during the flu season. If this occurs, your flu shot will be less effective, but may still offer some protection.
- Other illnesses. Many other diseases, such as the common cold, also produce flu-like symptoms. So you may think you have the flu when you actually don’t.
According to the CDC, during a regular flu season, about 90 percent of deaths occur in people 65 years and older. So even though the vaccine is not 100% effective, we know that getting vaccinated saves lives and reduces the size of any outbreak! Please get vaccinated today!