Woman receiving a flu shot
Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Why take the chance that the flu—with its fever, dry cough, sore throat, body aches, and chills—will strike you this year? The influenza virus, a contagious infection of the respiratory system, affects 10 to 20 percent of the population annually. Each year the flu is different, and more or less severe.

Since 2010 in the U.S., deaths from the flu or its complications have ranged from 12,000 to 56,000. Fortunately, there are preventive steps you can take to avoid the flu.

Get a flu shot

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone six months and older get a flu vaccine every season. It will reduce your risk of coming down with the flu, and of spreading it to others.

This is especially important if you spend time with someone at higher risk of flu complications or if you have a child who is too young to be vaccinated.

Ideally, have your shot at the start of the season, which means in October or November. The vaccine is very safe, there typically are no serious side effects, and it’s often covered by insurance. Talk to your doctor before getting a flu shot if you have an allergy to eggs or any of the ingredients in the vaccine, a history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome, or an acute illness. To find locations to receive flu vaccines and other immunizations, visit vaccinefinder.org.

Avoid germs

This might seem to be common sense, but it bears repeating: Try not to have close contact with anyone who's infected. And if you're sick yourself, stay home and get well.

When someone who has the flu coughs or sneezes, the virus is expelled into the air and may be inhaled by others. That's why health experts recommend sneezing or coughing into the crook of your arm.

Other ways to protect against both spreading germs if you're sick and catching germs if you're not: Wash your hands frequently, and keep them away from your eyes, nose and mouth (touching these areas can spread the bacteria).

Keep your immune system strong

Boost your immune system by staying on top of fundamental healthy habits. Get plenty of sleep and exercise, drink a lot of fluids, maintain a balanced
diet, and manage stress.

Are you at high risk?

People in these categories are at higher risk for developing complications from the flu and should see a physician as soon as they notice symptoms:

  • Children under 5
  • Adults older than 65
  • Pregnant women
  • People with weak ened immune systems
  • People with chronic illnesses, including asthma, heart disease, kidney disease, and diabetes
  • People with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 40 or more

Is it the flu or just a cold?

Symptom Cold Flu
Fever and chills Rarely Yes (100.4 degrees or higher)
Cough Yes Yes (dry)
Sore throat Yes (scratchy) Yes
Body aches, fatigue Rarely Yes
Decreased appetite Rarely Yes
Congestion Yes Yes
Sneezing Yes Yes
Duration 2-14 days 7 days to several weeks
Onset of symptoms Gradual Sudden
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