Protecting Yourself from the Flu Season

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Symptoms of Influenza

Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness. Serious outcomes of flu infection can result in hospitalization or death. Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications.

The flu is different from a cold. The flu usually comes on suddenly. People who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:

  • Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

* It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

Will new strains of flu circulate this season?

Flu viruses are constantly changing so it’s not unusual for new flu virus strains to appear each year. For more information about how flu viruses change, visit How the Flu Virus Can Change.

When will flu activity begin and when will it peak?

The timing of flu is very unpredictable and can vary from season to season. Flu activity most commonly peaks in the U.S. in January or February. However, seasonal flu activity can begin as early as October and continue to occur as late as May.

Preventing the Flu

 

Everyday preventive steps like staying away from sick people and washing your hands to reduce the spread of germs are important. Health professionals and public health organizations are encouraging the public to take preventive measures this cold and flu season to help prevent the spread of germs that can cause illness. Everyday hand hygiene, both hand washing and hand sanitizing with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap and water is not available, is the single most important way to reduce the spread of germs that can cause infection.

 

Stay away to keep sickness at bay.

If you are sick with flu, stay home from work or school to prevent spreading influenza to others. Despite a better understanding of flu prevention, nearly 90 percent of office workers come to work even when they know they are sick, according to the fourth annual Flu Season Survey from Staples, a provider of supplies that help keep offices healthy. The findings show a growing trend when compared to last year’s findings, indicating 80 percent of workers come to work sick, and up from 60 percent in the 2011 Staples survey.

According to the survey, workers acknowledged that staying out three days when sick with the flu was appropriate. The majority of workers, however, stay out of the office for less than two days when sick, putting coworkers’ health and business productivity at risk. The primary reason most respondents cited for returning to work early was not wanting to fall behind on their workload (45 percent).

Getting Vaccinated

CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older as the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease. Getting the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available each year is always a good idea, and the protection you get from vaccination will last throughout the flu season. It’s important to get a flu vaccine every year, even if you got vaccinated the season before and the viruses in the vaccine have not changed for the current season.

What flu viruses does this season’s vaccine protect against?

While there are many different flu viruses, the flu vaccine is designed to protect against the three main flu strains that research indicates will cause the most illness during the flu season. Three kinds of influenza viruses commonly circulate among people today: Influenza A (H1N1) viruses, influenza A (H3N2) viruses, and influenza B viruses. Each year, these viruses are used to produce seasonal influenza vaccine.

Where can I get a flu vaccine?

Flu vaccines are offered in many locations, including doctor’s offices, clinics, health departments, pharmacies and college health centers, as well as by many employers, and even in some schools. Even if you don’t have a regular doctor or nurse, you can get a flu vaccine somewhere else, like a health department, pharmacy, urgent care clinic, and often your school, college health center, or work.