Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. For some people, flu is a mild illness that leads to missed time from family, work and school. For others, it can lead to hospitalization and even death.
Every year in the United States, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications and tens of thousands die, including young children.
The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccination (flu shot) every year. The CDC recommends that everyone over 6 months of age get a flu shot.
Flu symptoms can last anywhere from 5 to 10 days, and include some or all of the following:
- Sore throat
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Body aches
- Vomiting and/or diarrhea (more common in children than adults)
Though the flu can make people feel pretty lousy, the vast majority of otherwise healthy people will recover from the flu at home with self-care:
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Treat fever with acetaminophen or ibuprofen (do not give aspirin to children under 18 years of age)
- Stay home until at least 24 hours after you are free of a fever without taking fever-reducing medications.
Should I see a doctor?
How influenza is spread
Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person by coughing, sneezing, talking or singing. Sometimes people can become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose. Getting vaccinated, covering coughs and sneezes, and handwashing are good preventative measures.
Anyone, even healthy people can get the flu. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated. The CDC recommends flu shots for everyone 6 months of age and older.
Where to Get Vaccinated
- Your doctor or clinic
- Community Immunization Clinic - If you do not have a regular healthcare provider, you can get a flu shot here.
People at Risk for Flu Complications
The following groups of people are more likely to experience serious complications from the flu that can lead to hospitalization or even death. If you have one of these conditions it is especially important to get vaccinated against the flu:
- People with chronic medical conditions like asthma, diabetes and heart disease
- Age 65 and older
- Pregnant women
Influenza vaccines have a very good safety track record. Over the years, Americans have received hundreds of millions of doses of seasonal flu vaccine. The discomfort and possible serious complications from flu are far greater than any risks that come from the vaccine.
More about vaccine safety»
To help reduce your risk of getting and spreading the flu, use these everyday disease prevention practices:
- Wash your hands vigorously and frequently with soap and water. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are OK if soap and water are not available.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes. Use disposable tissue or your sleeve, not your hands.
- Stay home from work, school or other places where there are a lot of people if you are sick.
More ways to protect yourself and your family (CDC resources):
Health Education Materials
Fact sheets, posters and videos to teach and remind others about healthy habits at your workplace, school, childcare center or community organization.
Information for Healthcare Providers
- Oregon Flu Information
- National Institute for Medical Research
- ProMED Mail: Electronic reporting system for outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases and toxins.
- Vaccine Information Statement - Inactivated
- Vaccine Information Statement - Live Intranasal
World Health Organization