There is a lot of information online about the flu, and it's not easy to get the facts straight.
What is the flu, and how do I prevent it? What should I do if I get it? Let's cut through all the noise and answer some of the most frequently asked questions about flu season with help from our good friends at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
1. When is flu season?
Each year can be different, but it's most common to see the number of flu cases rise during the fall and winter months in the United States. Typically it begins to ramp up in October and peak by February.
2. How does the flu spread?
The flu is a contagious respiratory virus that spreads airborne from coughing, sneezing, or talking. People with the flu can spread it to others who are up to 6 feet away. Those infected are most contagious during the first 3-4 days of their illness.
3. What are the common symptoms of the flu?
The flu is different from a cold, and usually comes on suddenly. People with the flu frequently have some or all of the following symptoms:
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Headaches and body aches
4. Who is most at risk?
Some people are at a higher risk for the flu, including people over 65 and people with chronic medical conditions like asthma, diabetes, or heart disease. The flu risk is also higher in pregnant women and children under 5.
5. I have the flu. How long until it's over?
This can vary. You may recover in a few days, but for many people it can take about two weeks. In some rare cases people can develop life-threatening complications such as pneumonia. See your doctor if symptoms persist.
6. Why should I get a flu shot?
It's simple: Getting a flu shot can keep you from getting sick with the flu. The CDC says flu vaccination prevented an estimated 5.3 million illnesses and 2.6 million medical visits during the 2016-2017 flu season.
7. How effective is the flu vaccine? Is it even worth it?
The most recent study shows that vaccination reduces flu illness between 40% and 60% among the overall population. So weigh those numbers against spending two miserable weeks at home with the flu. Yes, getting a flu shot is definitely worth it.
8. Can the flu vaccine give you the flu?
This is a common misconception. Please remember: Flu vaccines do not cause the flu. The preponderance of evidence also suggests that it does not make people more susceptible to other respiratory infections.
9. Are there any restrictions for who can get the vaccine?
There are flu shots for children as young as 6 months and for adults 65 and older. Children younger than 6 months should not get a flu shot. If you have a severe or life-threatening illness, consult your doctor beforehand.
10. When should I get my flu shot?
Something to consider: It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies that protect against the flu to develop in the body. So the best course of action is to get the vaccine early in flu season--like October or November--before it begins spreading in the community.
For more facts about the flu and other useful health information, visit cdc.gov/flu.