Personal Health
Influenza (flu)
Seasonal Influenza  

Protect your loved ones during flu season! 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. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccination each fall.


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What is Influenza?

Influenza is a respiratory virus that causes seasonal flu each year during the winter months. It is characterized by fever, chills, body aches, headache, runny nose, cough and occasional diarrhea. It is primarily an Infection of the respiratory tract (breathing tubes and lungs). In some persons, complications of influenza can be severe, which can include pneumonia and death.

How do you get Influenza?

Influenza is spread from person to person primarily through “respiratory secretions,” the same way other common respiratory infections spread. Adults can spread influenza virus one day before symptoms appear and up to five days after the onset of illness.

Respiratory secretions are virus-containing droplets (such as spit or mucous) that are spread when infected persons cough or sneeze. These droplets can then land on the surfaces of the mouth, nose, and throat of persons who are near (i.e., within 3 feet) the ill person. The virus may also be spread through contact with the infectious respiratory secretions on the hands of an infected person and other objects and surfaces.

Should I wear a mask for protection?

Masks are recommended for use in health care settings by ill persons and healthcare workers to prevent spread of infection. Masks are most useful when worn by the person with symptoms. At this time, masks are not recommended for use by well persons in the community. There is no guarantee that masks would prevent the spread of the infection in the population.

How do you prevent Influenza?

  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing and sneezing. Dispose of tissue in the nearest waste receptacle.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. The key is to wash thoroughly with warm water, and to wash frequently. When hand washing is not possible, use antiseptic hand gels that contain alcohol.
  • Avoid close contact with ill persons and stay home when you are sick.
  • Get a flu shot, if you can.

If someone with the flu has touched a surface, should I disinfect it?

Yes, wipe down any surfaces that may have been contaminated by saliva or other respiratory secretions. However, since you may not know that the previous person had influenza, it is always better to make sure you wash your hands frequently.

Influenza viruses are known to survive on non-porous surfaces such as steel and plastic, for up to 24 to 48 hours after inoculation and from cloth, paper, and tissues for up to 8 to 12 hours. Viable virus can be transferred from non-porous surfaces to hands for 24 hours and from tissues to hands for 15 minutes.

Use a household disinfectant labeled for activity against bacteria and viruses, an EPA-registered hospital disinfectant, or mix and useĽ cup chlorine bleach with 1 gallon of cool water.

Why does it seem like we have a flu vaccine shortage every year?

Vaccine production is a complicated and lengthy process. The process begins in the spring and vaccine virus is grown in eggs. The virus is then harvested and killed before manufacturing it into vaccine. Production can take from 6 – 9 months. Options to speed up the production of influenza vaccine are currently being evaluated by the US government.

If I am a regular, healthy individual, why should I get a flu shot?

The influenza virus changes a little bit each year so that no one is 100% immune from it. Influenza may cause illness that lasts up to 10 days. Although the vaccine is recommended highly for persons with high risk of complications to flu, the vaccine works best in healthy individuals. Having more healthy individuals vaccinated against influenza decreases the likelihood of high-risk folks exposed to flu.

I am afraid of needles, is there a vaccine that does not involve a shot?

Flumist is a newer flu vaccine that came out about 3 years ago. It is sprayed into the nose, one nostril at a time. It is approved for use in healthy persons ages 5 – 49. Since it is a live, weakened virus, it is not recommended for use in patients who are immune compromised or their contacts.

Are there any medications to combat the flu?

There are four antiviral agents approved for use in the United States: Amantadine, Rimantadine, Oseltamivir, and Zanamivir. They are usually prescribed by physicians for persons at high risk of complications from influenza. The older antivirals, Amantadine and Rimantadine, are approved for use for treatment as well as prevention after exposure to influenza A. The newer antivirals, Oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and Zanamivir can be used to treat Influenza A and B. In addition, Tamiflu can also be used to prevent influenza if taken early after exposure.

What You Should Know

  • Influenza Statistics - Disease statistics, reports, and maps of current flu activity throughout the nation.

Information for Specific Groups

Information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention  (CDC) Site -

More Influenza (Flu) Information

Internet Web Links


flu information
  • Thurston County Public Health & Social Services Public Information Line
  • (360) 709-3080
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information for health care providers
This page last updated: 01/28/22