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What is seasonal influenza?

Also called the flu, seasonal influenza is caused by a virus that easily spreads from person to person by coughing and sneezing, and through nasal secretions. Most people who get the flu are sick for only a few days, but others need medical care. Older adults, children under age 2, and people with weak immune systems or chronic illnesses are more likely to become seriously ill. A fever, headache, fatigue, sore throat, dry cough, chills, and body aches are typical signs and symptoms of the flu, but not everyone with the flu has all of these. Flu season starts as early as October and can last until May.


How is the flu treated?

Antiviral medicine can ease flu symptoms if you start taking it within 2 days of your first symptoms. A healthcare provider must prescribe this medicine, which usually is given to people who are most at risk for serious illness.


Some over-the-counter medicines, such as ibuprofen, can help reduce the discomfort from fever, headache, and chills. Drink plenty of water and juice and eat a balanced diet. You need more fluids than usual when you have the flu, and proper nutrition gives your body energy to recover. Avoid alcohol and tobacco. Vitamin C and herbal supplements haven't been proven to help people recover from the flu.


Should I get a flu vaccine?

Almost anyone who wants protection from the flu should get a vaccine every year. But getting the vaccine is especially important if you're at risk for serious illness. If you have a serious illness and need the flu vaccine, anyone who lives with you should also get the vaccine. Talk with your healthcare provider to see if you and your family should get the flu vaccine each year. Children under age 6 months shouldn't get the flu vaccine.


The best time to get a flu vaccine is in September because it takes about 2 weeks to provide full protection. But getting the vaccine after September also protects you, and this protection can last for up to a year. The vaccine isn't 100% effective, but it can reduce the severity of symptoms if you do get the flu.


The vaccine can be given as an injection ("flu shot") or as a nasal spray. Talk with your healthcare provider to find out which is better for you. Tell your healthcare provider if you have any allergies, including an allergy to chicken eggs, if you developed Guillain-Barre syndrome within 6 weeks of getting a previous flu vaccine, or if you've had a serious reaction to a flu vaccine in the past.


Because flu viruses change often, the vaccine is changed slightly every year. To protect yourself from illness, you need to get the flu vaccine every year.


Can the flu vaccine make me sick?

You can't get the flu from the vaccine because it's made from a killed or weakened virus. But you may notice mild swelling, redness, or soreness where the flu shot was given. A few people develop fever, a runny nose, headaches, or muscle aches after the nasal spray vaccine. These usually last 1 or 2 days and go away on their own.


Very rarely, the vaccine can cause an allergic reaction. If you develop breathing problems, hoarseness or wheezing, hives, paleness, weakness, dizziness, or feeling as if your heart is racing, call 911. Tell the paramedics that you had a flu vaccine and when you got it.


What else can I do to prevent the flu?

Besides getting a flu vaccine, you can:


* avoid close contact with people who have respiratory symptoms, such as coughing.


* stay home when you're sick.


* wash your hands often.


* avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth because this is how a virus can get into your body.


* practice other good health habits: getting enough sleep, staying active, drinking plenty of fluids, and eating healthy.