Seasonal Flu FAQs

What is influenza? How long does it last? When is the flu season?
  • Influenza, or the "flu", is a highly contagious illness caused by a virus that attacks primarily the upper and lower respiratory tracts including the nose, throat, bronchi, and lungs.
  • The infection generally lasts about a week and most people recover within one to two weeks without requiring any medical treatment.
  • The flu season typically runs from October to May, with peak seasons usually occurring from December to March.
What are the symptoms of the flu? How does the flu differ from the common cold? What about the stomach flu?
  • Influenza is characterized by a sudden onset of symptoms. Pay careful attention to those symptoms highlighted in red:
    • High fever (101˚F‹)
    • Severe muscle aches
    • Extreme fatigue or exhaustion
    • Severe non-productive cough
    • Sore throat
    • Headache
    • Runny or stuffy nose
    • Diarrhea and vomiting (mostly in children)
  • Although the cold is a respiratory infection like the flu, the intensity of symptoms is much less. Be careful not to confuse one with the other. Pay careful attention to specific symptoms of the flu (red) and those of a cold (blue). Specifically, symptoms of the cold include:
    • Mild to moderate cough with phlegm
    • Mild body aches
    • Stuffy nose
    • Sneezing
    • Sore throat
  • Many people use the term "stomach flu" to describe any illness with symptoms of nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. These symptoms can be caused by many different viruses, bacteria, or even parasites. While vomiting and/or diarrhea are occasional symptoms of the flu, please remember that the flu is a respiratory infection and not a stomach or intestinal illness.

Are there any serious complications with the flu that I need to worry about?

  • On average each year in the United States, over 200,000 Americans are hospitalized due to serious and life-threatening complications from influenza. Do not underestimate how serious the flu can be. Complications from influenza include:
    • Pneumonia: The most common secondary infection due to influenza, pneumonia can develop in the lungs of flu victims whose immune system is seriously compromised.
    • Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS): ARDS involves massive inflammation of the lung tissue that impairs oxygen exchange in the blood. It can lead to possible long-term lung damage and is fatal in more than one-third of people who develop it.
    • Septicemia: Systemic infection throughout the entire body often caused by serious infections, and can lead to multi-organ failure.
    • Worsening of chronic health conditions: Chronic heart, lung, or metabolic diseases may be worsened due to influenza.

How does the flu spread from person to person? How long does it take to become infected if I am exposed?

  • The virus is easily passed from person to person through the air by droplets and small particles expired when infected individuals cough or sneeze. The virus enters the body through the nose or throat.
  • It takes 1-4 days for a person to develop symptoms but someone suffering from influenza can be infectious from the day before they develop symptoms to 7 days afterwards.

What is the best way to protect myself and my family from getting the flu? Is the flu shot safe?

  • The most effective means of prevention is to get an annual flu shot. It is best to get vaccinated during the months of October or November, but getting vaccinated in the later months of the flu season can still be beneficial.
  • The vaccine is safe for most people except for those who are allergic to chicken eggs, have had a severe reaction to a flu shot in the past, or who are currently sick with a fever. Please consult with your physician before getting vaccinated.

Who should get vaccinated for the flu?

  • Everyone should get a flu vaccine but it is especially important for those who are at high risk of getting the flu or suffering from complications associated with the flu. These include:
    • Children aged 6 months until their 5th birthday
    • Pregnant women
    • Older adults 50 years
    • People with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes.
    • People living in nursing homes or other long term care facilities
    • Health care workers
    • People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from influenza.

Is there anything else that I can do to prevent getting the flu?

  • There are several habits that you can begin to practice in order to reduce your risk of getting the flu or giving it to others. These include:
    • Cover your sneeze or cough with a facial tissue or your sleeve. Do not cover your sneeze or cough with your hands.
    • Wash your hands regularly with soap and warm water for at lease 20 seconds, or use a hand sanitizer if soap and water are unavailable.
    • Avoid touching your mouth, nose, and eyes with your hands.
    • Avoid close contact, if possible, with people who you know are sick.
    • Stay out of public or crowded places if you know the flu is going around.