How can you prevent influenza?
- Avoid people who are sick - keep a distance from them.
- Stay home if you are sick. Donâ€™t spread germs.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
- Wash your hands frequently and wash them well.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often carried on your hands.
- Get a flu shot.
About the flu shot: The best way to protect yourself from influenza is to receive an annual influenza vaccine (a flu shot). This will immunize (protect) you against one or more strains of the virus. A flu vaccine uses an inactivated (killed) virus that cannot cause infection but instead, causes the body to produce antibodies (proteins that fight the virus). The vaccine is based on the strains of the flu viruses that are common at the time. Flu viruses change over time. That is why you must get a new shot every fall. Even then, some people may still catch a different type of flu that scientists were not expecting.
Flu shots are usually given at doctorsâ€™ offices and in health departments in the fall and winter. Now they are also offered at places in your neighborhood like drugstores. You should get vaccinated 6 to 8 weeks before flu season begins to give your body time to acquire immunity. This should prevent you from getting infected or at least reduce the severity of flu if you do catch it. However, if you are exposed to the virus soon after you are vaccinated you may still catch it. That is why you should get the shot early in the flu season.
The vaccine itself cannot cause the flu, but as with almost any medical procedure, there may be side effects of the vaccine. The most common side effect is mild soreness where the shot was given. Soreness can last up to two days and rarely affects daily activities. A small number of people, most often children, might also develop a slight fever within 24 hours. They may have chills or a headache, or feel a little sick. People who already have a cold or breathing problem may find their symptoms worsen. Usually none of these reactions lasts for more than a few days. Because the vaccine virus is grown in chicken eggs, a few people who are allergic to eggs are in danger of allergic reaction, but this is rare. If you are concerned, ask your doctor. You can be treated for the allergy.
Not everyone has to have a flu shot. Some people are more at risk for catching the flu and suffering from complications than others. They should get a flu shot every fall. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that you get the flu vaccine if you are in any of the following groups or live in a household with someone who is:
- Children ages 6 months to 23 months.
- People 65 years of age and older.
- People 2 years old or older who have an underlying, long-term illness (heart or lung disease, metabolic disease [like diabetes], kidney disease, a blood disorder, or a weakened immune system).
- Women who will be pregnant this season.
- People who live in nursing homes or other chronic-care places.
- People who are 6 months to 18 years of age, and take aspirin daily.
- Health-care workers who take care of patients.
- People who have or take care of a baby under 6 months old. (Do not give a flu shot to babies under 6 months.)
To learn more:
- HealthMap Vaccine Finder
- Are you looking for a flu shot? This Website can help you find pharmacies, clinics and health departments that offer flu vaccinations. You can search by address, zip code or type of flu vaccination. In addition to flu vaccines, you can find where to get 10 other vaccines, including Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Shingles, HPV (Human Papillomavirus), MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella), Chickenpox, Td (Tetanus and Diphtheria), Tdap (Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Pertusis), Meningitis and Pneumonia. Click on each disease name for a description. Make sure you contact locations to make sure vaccinations are available.
- Influenza (Flu): Prevention
- More information on the flu vaccine and what groups should be getting the flu shot. Scroll down to "Prevention".
- What You Should Know About Flu Antiviral Drugs
(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC))
- A few drugs can fight flu viruses. Learn about these, when they can be used, and who should use them.
- Influenza Diagnosis
(National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases)
- This explains what influenza drugs are available, how they work, what the side effects are, and who should take them.