Personal Health
Influenza (flu)
 
Do I Need A Flu Shot?  
 
 

Influenza is a contagious respiratory disease that can be prevented by immunization. It is caused by a virus that attacks the nose, throat, and lungs. Influenza symptoms come quickly in the form of fever, dry cough, sore throat, headache, extreme tiredness, nasal congestion, and body aches. These symptoms can be severe and put you in bed for a number of days.

Influenza is not the “stomach flu” (diarrhea and vomiting) and is not the same as a bad cold. A cold generally stays up in the head while the flu brings body aches, fever, and extreme fatigue.

Influenza is a serious disease. People die of the flu every year, and many are hospitalized with serious complications. The very young and very old, plus those with chronic health conditions, are most likely to be hospitalized or die of the flu.

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Do I need a flu shot?

Remember, influenza is a serious disease that causes misery, hospitalizations, and even death each year in the U.S. The flu season in Washington begins in October and often peaks in March or even April. Flu vaccination will protect you for the season, as well as people you come in contact with. Flu shots that aren't used this season are simply wasted since the vaccine has to be reformulated every year to match the circulating strains. Plus, providers with vaccine left over lose money and may not order as many doses next year.

As last year's shortage showed, our nation's flu vaccine supply system is fragile. It depended on just two major vendors, one of which was not able to deliver vaccine last year. It would help if every eligible person got a flu shot every year. Getting a flu shot every year will not only protect you and the people around you, but will also help strengthen the nation's annual flu supply system. If you are at high risk for complications of the flu, or if you live with and care for someone who is, you are especially encouraged to seek a flu shot.

What about the nasal vaccine, FluMist?

FluMist, the intranasal flu vaccine, is a viable option for healthy 2 to 49 year-olds.
Healthy people age 2-49 may be eligible for the FluMist nasal influenza vaccine. See FluMist.com for more information.

What should I know about the flu season?

The first case of flu is often identified in Washington in October or November. Widespread flu activity appears 6-10 weeks after the first case. You need a flu shot each year to get the latest protection. Flu vaccination usually begins in September and October in Washington, and continues through March or April. Your flu shot takes 1-2 weeks to take effect.

What else can you do to protect yourself from the flu?

Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and dispose of the tissue afterward. If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your sleeve. Clean your hands after you cough or sneeze with soap and warm water or an alcohol-based hand cleaner. Handwashing is one of the most important things you can do to keep from getting sick and from spreading germs to others.

If you get the flu, avoid exposing others. Stay home from work or school until your fever is gone, and you feel ready to resume normal activities.

The related links below provides more information on Influenza and printed materials:

Are you over 65 years of age, or have a Chronic Health Disease?

Get a pneumococcal shot if you're over 65 years of age, or have a chronic health condition, since one of the main complications of influenza is pneumonia.  For more information, see Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine (PPV), What You Need to Know [PDF] from the CDC.

What about antiviral medicines?

Antiviral medicines are used for treatment and prevention of influenza. Supplies of antivirals are limited and are for use in people who are at high risk for complications of influenza. Antivirals are most often used to help contain influenza outbreaks in setting such as nursing homes or to protect a high-risk person who is in direct contact with someone who has influenza.

There are risks in taking antivirals. Some people have serious side effects from them. Antivirals must be taken quickly, within 24-48 hours of being exposed to influenza or onset of symptoms. If you have questions about antivirals, talk to your doctor.

 
 
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This page last updated: 05/14/12