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Answers to common health questions that will benefit you

What is the flu and when is the flu season?

It's a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. The flu can cause serious illness and life-threatening complications, especially for infants, the elderly and other high-risk populations. It's most common during the fall and winter months.

What symptoms are common with the flu?

You may have a fever, chills, dry cough, headache, fatigue, sore muscles and sore throat. Flu symptoms can last anywhere from 2 - 7 days. Children can sometimes experience vomiting and nausea. Other people, particularly those who are elderly, may also develop a secondary bacterial infection, such as pneumonia.

How soon do flu symptoms show and how long could someone be contagious?

If you are exposed to the flu, you will experience symptoms within one to four days. You could infect others from one day before becoming sick until five days after experiencing symptoms. This means you could spread the flu before you know you are sick.

How does the flu spread?

The flu is spread from person to person when someone who already has the flu sneezes or coughs. You can also catch the flu by touching an object, such as a doorknob, that has influenza germs on it and then touching your own eyes, nose or mouth. Even if you don't feel sick yet, you may be able to infect others with the flu virus.

How can I avoid getting the flu?

Wash your hands frequently. Stay away from people who are sick and do not touch items that a sick person has touched. Get a flu shot each year to help prevent the flu.

How is the flu treated? Are antibiotics effective?

Most treatments concentrate on easing flu symptoms until they subside. Influenza is caused by a virus, and viruses do not respond to antibiotics. Tamiflu, is a prescribed anti-viral medication that can limit the intensity and/or duration of flu symptoms if taken within 36 - 48 hours of being exposed to the virus.

How is the flu different from a cold?

The flu shares some symptoms with the common cold, including runny nose, sneezing and sore throat. However, if you are an adult and have a fever of 101 degrees Fahrenheit or more, you may have the flu. If so, your fever may last anywhere from one day to a week and in some cases may climb as high as 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Also, the flu typically makes you feel much worse than a cold. Even after you're better, you may still feel tired.

How does the flu shot work and can I get the flu from it?

No, you cannot get the flu from the flu shot. The viruses are killed viruses and cannot cause influenza. These viruses cause your immune system to make antibodies, so that if you are exposed to the live flu viruses, your immune system will immediately start protecting you.

Why should I get a flu shot and is it for everyone?

Influenza is a serious illness, and anyone can get it. A yearly flu vaccine is the best way to reduce your risk of getting the flu. However, not everyone should get a flu shot.

Consult your doctor if you have the following situations.
    • Have a severe allergy to chicken eggs
    • Have had a severe reaction to previous flu shot
    • Have previously developed Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) in the first 6 weeks after a flu shot
    • Have a moderate or severe illness with a fever
    • Aged 65 years and older, with and without chronic health conditions
    • Are under age 65 and have chronic health conditions
    • Live in long-term care facility
    • Have a weakened immune system
    • Have children aged 6 months to 5 years old
    • Are currently pregnant

When is the best time to get the flu shot?

Get a flu shot before the flu season starts in October or November, but it still helps to get a shot anytime during the flu season. It takes about two weeks to develop protection against infection, and protection can last for up to a year.

How effective is the flu shot and can I still get the flu after getting the shot?

Yes, getting the flu is still possible, however, it typically prevents serious illness from the flu. The effectiveness of flu vaccine depends on two things: your general health and age, and the similarity between the virus strains in the vaccine and those currently circulating.

Are there any side effects from the flu shot?

Yes, but they are typically minor. The most common side effect is soreness, redness or swelling where the shot is given. Some people may also have a fever or muscle soreness. If these side effects occur, they start shortly after the shot and last one to two days. The chance that you will have a severe reaction is very small. However, call your doctor immediately if you experience high fever, shortness of breath, dizziness, hives or a rapid heartbeat.