Seasonal influenza (flu) is caused by viruses which infect the respiratory tract (the nose, throat, and lungs). The infection spreads quickly through communities as the virus passes from person to person. Each year, more than 200,000 individuals are hospitalized and 3,000-49,000 deaths occur from influenza-related complications.
The flu season is unpredictable, but it often occurs from October to May and usually peaks between December and February, which is why flu vaccine should be given as soon as it becomes available each year.
Flu spreads through the air when people cough or sneeze and people nearby inhale the virus. The flu virus can also be spread to adults and children when a person wipes their eyes or puts their hands in their mouth after touching a surface that has flu virus on it.
Even healthy people can get the flu, and it can be serious. Remember that many adults and children are at high risk for complications to flu and that we can help protect them by vaccinating ourselves and our loved ones.
People at high-risk for flu complications include:
Common signs and symptoms of the flu include:
Questioning whether you have flu or just a cold? Flu usually has a sudden onset and has more severe symptoms than a cold (which is caused by a different virus). Flu can result in serious complications and your doctor may subscribe antivirals: Learn more about how to detect and treat flu.
An annual flu vaccine is the best defense against getting the flu. The CDC recommends that everyone over 6 months of age receive an annual influenza (flu) vaccine as soon as it becomes available in your area. Note that research indicates that those with egg allergy are not at higher risk of allergic reactions from flu vaccines and are recommended to receive an annual vaccination.
The upcoming season’s flu vaccine will protect against the influenza viruses that researchers predict will be most common during the season. This includes an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and one or two influenza B viruses, depending on the flu vaccine. Traditional flu vaccines (called “trivalent” vaccines) are made to protect against three flu viruses; an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus. There are also flu vaccines made to protect against four flu viruses (called “quadrivalent” vaccines). These vaccines protect against the same viruses as the trivalent vaccine and an additional B virus.
For the 2016-2017 season, CDC recommends use of injectable/inactivated flu vaccines (or IIV) or the recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV). Note that the nasal spray flu vaccine (live attenuated influenza vaccine or LAIV) was found to be ineffective against strains in recent years and be used during 2016-2017.
Vaccination is especially important for people 65 years and older. This age group is at greater risk of serious complications from the flu because immune defenses weaken as we get older. The CDC estimates that between 80-90% of seasonal flu-related deaths have occurred in people 65 years and older, and between 50-70% of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations have occurred among people in this age group.
There are two vaccines designed specifically for people 65 and older:
Remember, we are all in this together. While the flu virus is hard to predict, we can seriously reduce our chances of getting sick, hospitalized and dying by getting vaccinated every year. And, by vaccinating ourselves and our loved ones, we can help protect those who are at highest risk of flu complications
Visit your healthcare provider or pharmacist to get a flu vaccine as soon as its available in your area. If you or a loved one is 65 years or older, talk to them about whether you/they are a good candidate for the high dose flu vaccine. To find a location near you where you can get vaccinated, visit HealthMap Vaccine Finder.