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Flu General Information

How Flu Spreads

From Person to Person -  Flu can be spread to others from infected people from up to about six feet away. It is believed that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets when infected persons cough, sneeze or talk and are inhaled by unprotected persons. The viruses are highly contagious. Less often, a person can get flu by touching a surface or object that has the flu virus on it, and then touching their mouth or nose.

To eliminate the risk of infections, people should wash their hands often with soap and water or with an alcohol-based hand rub when soap and water not available. Any items that are shared, such as eating utensils and dishes, should be washed first.

Most healthy adults will be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop, and five to seven days after becoming sick. Symptoms may start one to four days after the virus enters the body. Young Children, those who are severely ill, and those who have severely weakened immune systems may be able to infect others for longer than 5-7 days. The signs and symptoms are: fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle ache, headaches and fatigue (tiredness). Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children.)

The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccination each year.

Flu viruses can cause illness in people of any age group. Some groups are more likely to have complications from the seasonal flu. These include:

  • Children aged <5 years, especially younger than 2 years old.
  • Adults age 65 and older
  • Women who are pregnant or postpartum (within 2 weeks after delivery)
  • People younger than 19 years of age who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy
  • Persons with chronic lung disorders (including asthma, chronic pulmonary disease/COPD, cystic fibrosis), heart disease (congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease), kidney disorders, liver disorders, blood disorders (including sickle cell disease), metabolic disorders (including diabetes mellitus), or neurologic and neurodevelopment conditions (including disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerve and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy/seizure disorders, stroke, intellectual disability/mental retardation, moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injury)
  • People with weakened immune systems due to disease or medication (like HIV or AIDS, cancer, chronic steroids)
  • Native Americans and Alaskan Natives
  • People who are morbidly obese (BMI greater than 40)
  • Residents of nursing homes or other long-term care facilities

Complications from the flu can include:

  • Bacterial pneumonia
  • Ear or sinus infections
  • Dehydration
  • Worsening of chronic medical conditions
  • Death

Vaccination is the best protection against contracting the flu. You are encouraged to talk to your doctor about getting the flu vaccine as soon as it is available! Vaccines are now available for the most common influenza viruses.

The flu vaccine is safe, and being vaccinated poses far less risk than being unvaccinated and remaining at risk of developing infection. Most importantly, being vaccinated protects our patients. Flu vaccine should not be given to children less than 6 months of age and individuals with history of severe allergic reaction to the vaccine or any of its components. Individuals with allergy to eggs or prior severe complications from flu vaccine including Guillain-Barré Syndrome should consult their doctor before accepting the vaccine.

The recommendations for vaccination of people with egg allergies were changed for 2016-2017 flu season. People with egg allergies can receive any licensed, recommended age-appropriate influenza vaccine and no longer have to be monitored for 30 minutes after receiving the vaccine. People who have severe egg allergies should be vaccinated in a medical setting and be supervised by a health care provider who is able to recognize and manage severe allergic conditions.

What Else Can You Do to Help Prevent the Spread of Flu and Stay Healthy?

The single best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated each year. In addition, there are everyday actions people can take to stay healthy:

  • Wash your hands properly and often
  • Use alcohol based hand rub when soap and water are not immediately available
  • Cover your coughs and sneezes
  • Use single use, disposable tissue when needed
  • Stay home when you are sick, especially during flu season
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick