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Nov.30.2018View related content
 Preventing Influenza, Adult

Preventing Influenza, Adult

Influenza, more commonly known as “the flu,” is a viral infection that mainly affects the respiratory tract. The respiratory tract includes structures that help you breathe, such as the lungs, nose, and throat. The flu 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 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 was recently contaminated with the virus and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.

What can I do to lower my risk?



You can decrease your risk of getting the flu by:
  • Getting a flu shot (influenza vaccination) every year. This is the best way to prevent the flu. A flu shot is recommended for everyone age 6 months and older.
    • It is best to get a flu shot in the fall, as soon as it is available. 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. Even if a flu shot does not completely protect you from all flu virus mutations, it can reduce the severity of your illness and prevent dangerous complications of the flu.
    • If you are pregnant, you can and should get a flu shot.
    • If you have had a reaction to the shot in the past or if you are allergic to eggs, check with your health care provider before getting a flu shot.
    • 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.
  • 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. 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 disinfectant to clean surfaces at home and at work that may be contaminated with the flu virus.
    • Keep your body’s disease-fighting system (immune system) in good shape by eating a healthy diet, drinking plenty of fluids, getting enough sleep, and exercising regularly.
If you do get the flu, avoid spreading it to others by:
  • Staying home until your symptoms have been gone for at least one day.
  • Covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze.
  • Avoiding close contact with others, especially babies and elderly people.

Why are these changes important?

Getting a flu shot and practicing good health habits protects you as well as other people. If you get the flu, your friends, family, and co-workers are also at risk of getting it, because it spreads so easily to others. Each year, about 2 out of every 10 people get the flu.
Having the flu can lead to complications, such as pneumonia, ear infection, and sinus infection. The flu also can be deadly, especially for babies, people older than age 65, and people who have serious long-term diseases.

How is this treated?

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. You can talk with your health care provider about whether you need an antiviral medicine.
Antiviral medicine may be prescribed for people who are at risk for more serious flu symptoms. This includes people who:
  • Are older than age 65.
  • Are pregnant.
  • Have a condition that makes the flu worse or more dangerous.

Where to find more information

Contact a health care provider if:

  • You have influenza and you develop new symptoms.
  • You have:
    • Chest pain.
    • Diarrhea.
    • A fever.
  • Your cough gets worse, or you produce more mucus.

Summary

  • The best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu shot every year in the fall.
  • Even if you get the flu after you have received the yearly vaccine, your flu may be milder and go away sooner because of your flu shot.
  • If you get the flu, antiviral medicines that are started with a few days of symptoms may reduce your flu 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.