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Dec.01.2020
 Preventing Influenza, Adult

Preventing Influenza, Adult

Influenza, more commonly known as the flu, is an infection caused by a virus. The flu mainly affects the nose, throat, and lungs (respiratory system). This infection causes many common cold symptoms, as well as a high fever and body aches.
The flu spreads easily from person to person (is contagious). The flu is most common from December through March. This period of time is called flu season. You can catch the flu virus by:
  • Breathing in droplets from an infected person's cough or sneeze.
  • Touching something that recently got the virus on it (is contaminated) and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.

How can this condition affect me?

If you get the flu, your friends, family, and co-workers are also at risk of getting it because it spreads easily to others.
Having the flu can lead to complications, such as pneumonia, ear infection, and sinus infection. The flu also can be life-threatening, especially for babies, people older than age 65, and people who have serious long-term diseases.
You can protect yourself and other people by:
  • Keeping your body's defense system (immune system) strong.
  • Getting a flu shot, or influenza vaccination, each year.
  • Practicing good health habits.

What can increase my risk?

The following factors may make you more likely to get the flu:
  • Not washing or sanitizing your hands often.
  • Having close contact with many people during cold and flu season.
  • Touching your mouth, eyes, or nose without first washing or sanitizing your hands.
  • Not getting a flu shot each year.
  • Working in health care.
You may be at risk for more serious flu symptoms if:
  • You are older than age 65.
  • You are pregnant.
  • Your immune system is weak.
  • You have a condition that makes the flu worse or life-threatening.

What actions can I take to prevent this?

Lifestyle

You can lower your risk of getting the flu by keeping your immune system in good shape. Do this by:
  • Eating a healthy diet.
  • Drinking plenty of fluids. Drink enough fluid to keep your urine pale yellow.
  • Getting enough sleep.
  • Exercising regularly.
Do not use any products that contain nicotine or tobacco, such as cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and chewing tobacco. If you need help quitting, ask your health care provider.

Medicines

Getting a flu shot every year can also lower your risk of getting the flu. This is the best way to prevent the flu. A flu shot is recommended for everyone age 6 months or older.
  • It is best to get a flu shot in the fall, as soon as it is available. But getting a flu shot during winter or spring instead is still a good idea. Flu season can last into early spring.
  • Preventing the flu through vaccination requires getting a new flu shot every year. This is because the flu virus changes slightly (mutates) from one year to the next. The flu shot does not completely protect you from all flu virus mutations. Even if you get the flu after you get your flu shot, the shot can make your illness milder and go away sooner, and it can prevent dangerous complications of the flu.
  • If you are pregnant, you can and should get a flu shot.
  • Check with your health care provider before getting a flu shot if you have had a reaction to the shot in the past or if you are allergic to eggs.
  • Sometimes the vaccine is available as a nasal spray. In some years, the nasal spray has not been as effective against the flu virus. Check with your health care provider if you have questions about this.
Most people recover from the flu by resting at home and drinking plenty of fluids. However, a prescription antiviral medicine may reduce your flu symptoms and may make your flu go away sooner.
  • This medicine must be started within a few days of getting flu symptoms.
  • Antiviral medicine may be prescribed for people who are at risk for more serious flu symptoms. Talk with your health care provider about whether you need an antiviral medicine.

General information


You can also lower your risk of getting the flu by practicing good health habits. This is especially important during flu season.
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick with flu or cold symptoms.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water often. Wash for at least 20 seconds each time. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid touching your hands to your face, especially when you have not washed your hands recently.
  • Use a cleanser that kills germs (use a disinfectant) to clean surfaces at home and at work that may have the flu virus on them.
If you do get the flu, avoid spreading it to others by:
  • Staying home until your symptoms have been gone for at least 24 hours.
  • Covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
  • Avoiding close contact with others, especially babies and older people.

Where to find more information

Contact a health care provider if:

  • You have the flu and you develop new symptoms.
  • You have diarrhea.
  • You have a fever.
  • Your cough gets worse, or you produce more mucus.

Get help right away if:

  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You have chest pain.
These symptoms may represent a serious problem that is an emergency. Do not wait to see if the symptoms will go away. Get medical help right away. Call your local emergency services (911 in the U.S.). Do not drive yourself to the hospital.

Summary

  • The best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu shot (influenza vaccination) every year in the fall.
  • Even if you get the flu after you have received the yearly flu shot, your flu may be milder and go away sooner because of your flu shot.
  • If you get the flu, antiviral medicines that are started within a few days of flu symptoms may reduce your symptoms and may make your flu go away sooner.
  • You can also help prevent the flu by practicing good health habits.

This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.