HealthONE - November 30, 2020

Every year, five to 20 percent of Americans are expected to get the flu (influenza). That’s a lot, especially since there is a flu vaccine that has a high chance of preventing the flu. At HealthONE, our medical experts work to provide information on preventive care and what you need to know to stay well.

What is the flu?

The flu is a viral infection, like a cold, but flu symptoms will come on suddenly and can lead to bacterial pneumonia, dehydration and worsening of chronic medical conditions. Learning the facts about flu can help you and your loved ones stay healthy all season long.

Symptoms of the flu

Symptoms of the flu can include:

  • Cough
  • Fever or chills
  • Muscle, body or head aches
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children)

Generally speaking, symptoms will begin to appear two days after exposure. The period of contagiousness for the flu is one day before and 5-7 days after your symptoms appear.

Those at a higher risk

Those at a higher risk for the flu include:

  • People 65 years old and older
  • People with chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease)
  • Pregnant women
  • Young children

Preventing the Flu

The best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccination.

You can also help by:

  • Staying away from people who are sick
  • Covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze
  • Washing your hands frequently

Frequently asked questions about the flu

Below you will find some of the most frequently asked questions about the flu, as well as answer from our HealthONE experts.

How is the flu different from the common cold? Is it really that serious?

Experts answer: The flu is very serious. It’s a major killer around the world. On the outside, it differs from a cold because of the severity of its symptoms—it leads to high fevers, body aches and respiratory symptoms. Something else that makes the flu really dangerous is while the immune system is busy fighting it off, other issues can sneak in. Many times, when you read about deaths from the flu, they are deaths resulting from bacterial pneumonia that starts after the flu, when your body is already weak.

How do I know if I have the flu or a cold?

Expert answer: Initially when the flu starts it can seem like a cold—a runny nose and all over “yucky” feeling. But, within a couple of days, it can become a lot worse and bring muscle pains, a spike in fever and coughing. Children (and some adults) with the flu may also have nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Use your best judgement and get to the doctor as soon as possible if you suspect you have the flu.

Is it a Cold? Or Is it the Flu?

What should I do if I think I have the flu?

Expert answer: See your doctor as soon as possible, especially if you have been around someone with the flu. If you are going to get medication, it needs to be earlier rather than later for it to work properly. Other than that, rest and stay hydrated until it runs its course. If you can’t keep fluids down and feel dehydrated, seek immediate medical care.

Flu season runs from October to May, protect yourself and your loved ones - get your flu shot

How can I protect myself from the flu?

Expert answer: Get the flu vaccine every year. Use other common-sense preventive measures like washing your hands, covering your mouth when you cough and keeping kids home from school if they aren’t feeling well.

How effective is the flu vaccine?

Expert answer: According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the vaccine may reduce the risk of flu illness by 50-60 percent. Most years, the strains that are going around are the ones included in the flu vaccine. But, occasionally, the vaccine is less effective. But even when this happens, the vaccine still provides partial protection and could reduce the severity of the illness.

Is the vaccine only in the form of a shot?

Expert answer: The flu shot is the most effective way to prevent the flu, but there is a nasal spray made of attenuated (weakened) live flu viruses. In the past, pediatricians have used it for children, however, due to data showing an ineffectiveness of the nasal spray, the CDC has recommended not using the nasal spray to treat the flu.

Can you get the flu from the flu vaccine?

Expert answer: Absolutely not. If you’re feeling cruddy the next day, yes, that is probably a result of the flu vaccine, but that will be about the extent of it.

When is the best time of year to get the flu vaccine?

Expert answer: As soon as it becomes available—usually by the end of August or the beginning of September—before the cold and flu season starts. Usually, the vaccine takes a couple of weeks to become effective.