What is Influenza (also called “the Flu”)?

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Every year in the United States, on average:

· 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu
· more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications
· about 36,000 people die from flu.

Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications.

Symptoms of Flu

· fever (usually high)
· headache
· extreme tiredness
· dry cough
· sore throat
· runny or stuffy nose
· muscle aches
· stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, also can occur but are more common in children than adults

Complications of Flu

Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes. Children may get sinus problems and ear infections.

How Flu Spreads

Flu viruses spread in respiratory droplets caused by coughing and sneezing. They usually spread from person to person, though sometimes people become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 days after becoming sick. That means that you can pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.

Who Should Get Vaccinated (According to the Center for Disease Control)?

In general, anyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting the flu can get vaccinated. However, certain people should get vaccinated each year. They are either people who are at high risk of having serious flu complications or people who live with or care for those at high risk for serious complications. During flu seasons when vaccine supplies are limited or delayed, including the 2005-06 season, CDC makes recommendations regarding priority groups for vaccination.

1. People at high risk for complications from the flu:

· People 65 years and older;
· People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities that house those with long-term illnesses;
· Adults and children 6 months and older with chronic heart or lung conditions, including asthma;
· Adults and children 6 months and older who needed regular medical care or were in a hospital during the previous year because of a metabolic disease (like diabetes), chronic kidney disease, or weakened immune system (including immune system problems caused by medicines or by infection with human immunodeficiency virus [HIV/AIDS]);
· Children 6 months to 18 years of age who are on long-term aspirin therapy. (Children given aspirin while they have influenza are at risk of Reye syndrome.);
· Women who will be pregnant during the influenza season;
· All children 6 to 23 months of age;
· People with any condition that can compromise respiratory function or the handling of respiratory secretions (that is, a condition that makes it hard to breathe or swallow, such as brain injury or disease, spinal cord injuries, seizure disorders, or other nerve or muscle disorders.)
2. People 50 to 64 years of age. Nearly one-third of people 50 to 64 years of age in the United States have one or more medical conditions that place them at increased risk for serious flu complications.
3. People who can transmit flu to others at high risk for complications. Any person in close contact with someone in a high-risk group (see above) should get vaccinated. This includes all health-care workers, caregivers of children 6 to 23 months of age, and close contacts of people 65 years and older.

When to Get Vaccinated

October or November is the best time to get vaccinated, but getting vaccinated in December or even later can still be beneficial. Flu season can begin as early as October and last as late as May.

Who Should Not Be Vaccinated

Some people should not be vaccinated or should wait before getting vaccinated. They include:

· People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs.
· People who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination in the past.
· People who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) within 6 weeks of getting an influenza vaccine previously.
· Children less than 6 months of age.
· People who have a moderate or severe illness with a fever. (These people can get vaccinated once their symptoms lessen.)

If you have questions about whether you should get a flu vaccine, consult your health-care provider. The above information is directly from the Center for Disease Control’s website.