What is the flu?
Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. The virus attacks the nose, throat, and lungs. It is not the "stomach flu." The flu can be prevented by vaccination.
How is flu spread?
The flu is spread when an infected person who has the flu coughs or sneezes and sends the flu virus into the air. The virus enters the nose, throat, or lungs of a person and multiplies. Flu also spreads (though less likely) when a person touches the surface of an object that has flu viruses on it. The virus then enters the body when the person rubs his or her nose.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
Symptoms of the flu include fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and muscle aches. Children can have additional symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
What should you do if you get the flu?
If you have the flu (or a temperature of 100 degrees F or higher)
- Stay at home
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing
- Wash your hands frequently
If symptoms get worse seek medical attention. Parents should contact their health care provider immediately if they have concerns about their child's recovery. This would include a child having problems breathing, being too sleepy, or not taking enough fluids.
DO NOT give aspirin to children for treatment of flu symptoms because the risk of REYE SYNDROME, an acute and potentially life-threatening condition that results when children take aspirin or aspirin-containing products during certain viral illnesses.
Can the flu be prevented?
The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccination each year. September to November is the best time to get vaccinated, but getting vaccinated in December or even later can still be beneficial, because influenza activity typically occurs in January or later.
Other measures include:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick
- Stay home from work or school when you are sick
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze
- Wash your hands often with soap and water
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, thus reducing the spread of germs
Who should get vaccinated?
Influenza vaccine is recommended for:
- All children age 6 through 59 months
- People who care for children for children 0 - 5 years of age
- People of any age who have medical conditions that place them at risk for serious influenza-related complications
Who else should get vaccinated?
In general, anyone, all children 6 months and older, who want to reduce their chances of getting the flu. However, it is recommended by the ACIP that certain people should get vaccinated each year. They are either people that are at high risk of having serious flu complications or people who live with or care for those at high risk for serious complications. During flu seasons when vaccine supplies are limited or delayed, ACIP makes recommendations regarding priority groups for vaccination.
People who should get vaccinated each year are:
1. People at high risk for complications from the flu, including:
- Certain chronic conditions including asthma and diabetes
- Pregnant women
- People 50 years of age and older
- People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions
- People who live in nursing homes and other long term care facilities
2. People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from the flu, including:
- Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications for the flu (see above)
- Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated)
- Healthcare workers
Should all children be vaccinated?
The flu shot is not approved for use in children less than 6 months old. Children under 6 months old can still get very sick from the flu, but they are too young to get a flu vaccine. The best way to protect young children is to make sure that their household members and their caregivers are vaccinated.
Is the flu vaccine safe?
The risk of the flu vaccine causing serious harm, or death is extremely small. However, like any medicine, a vaccine may rarely cause serious problems, such as allergic reactions. Almost all people who get influenza vaccine have no serious problems from it.
What are the side effects that could occur?
- Soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
- Low-grade fever
Is the flu dangerous?
Children less than 2 years old - even healthy children-are at high risk of ending up in the hospital if they get the flu. Vaccinating young children, their families, and other caregivers can help protect them from getting sick. Children may get sinus problems and ear infections as complications from the flu.
Where can I get more information?
Call your doctor, school Health Office or local health department, or the Texas Department of State Health Services, Immunization Branch at (800) 252-9152.