Influenza Fact Sheet

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Influenza is a viral infection of the lungs and airways that is also known as “the flu”

Anyone can get influenza. Influenza is spread from person to person through the air by coughing and sneezing. It is also spread by direct contact with infected people or contaminated objects like door handles or computer keyboards. Influenza can be a serious disease that causes severe complications such as pneumonia. It can also make heart disease or chronic lung disease worse. In the United States, it estimated that about 36,000 deaths are caused by influenza each year.

Symptoms of influenza might be confused with the common cold

Influenza and the common cold both have symptoms that affect the throat and nose, but influenza symptoms are usually more severe than cold symptoms. These symptoms include a high fever (over 100°F) stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, and cough. Other symptoms of influenza include headache, tiredness, body aches, , and chills. Symptoms of influenza usually start 1 to 3 days after being exposed to the influenza virus. Most persons feel better after several days but cough and tiredness may last two weeks or more. Stomach cramps and diarrhea are not typical symptoms of influenza.

There are ways to treat influenza

For the quickest recovery from influenza, get plenty of rest; drink fluids like juice, water, or hot tea; and take an aspirin substitute for muscle aches and fever (but never give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms – and particularly fever – without first speaking to your doctor.). Do not give any medication including over-the-counter remedies to a child without first consulting with your pediatrician. If a fever lasts more than 3 or 4 days, see your healthcare provider. A physician may also prescribe certain antiviral medications. These medications may make symptoms milder if taken within 1 to 2 days of when symptoms begin. However, antiviral medication should be limited to those at higher risk for complications.

Look Out for Emergency Warning Signs that require urgent medical attention:

In children, some emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:

  •  High or prolonged fever
  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids (dehydration)
  • Changes in mental status, such as not waking up or not interacting; being so irritable that the child does not want to be held; or seizures
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Worsening of underlying chronic medical conditions (for example, heart or lung disease, diabetes)

In adults, some emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:

  • High or prolonged fever
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest
  • Near-fainting or fainting
  • Confusion
  •  Severe or persistent vomiting

If you see these warning signs, seek medical care immediately, either by calling your healthcare provider or going to an emergency room,. When you arrive, tell the receptionist or nurse about your symptoms. You may be asked to wear a mask and/or sit in a separate area to protect others from getting sick.

Yearly vaccination is the most important way to prevent influenza

Everyone 6 months of age and older should get vaccinated at the beginning of every influenza season.  Getting vaccinated is especially important for people at higher risk of complications from flu, as well as those who work or live with people at high risk.  The best time to get the influenza vaccine is as soon as it is available, but any time during the flu season is still a good time to get vaccinated. It takes about 2 weeks after vaccination to develop protection against the influenza virus. Past infection with influenza or immunization with the influenza vaccine does not protect a person from getting influenza the next year because influenza strains change from one season to the next.

People for whom influenza vaccination is especially important include:

Those at higher risk of complications from influenza, including:

  • Children aged 6 months 5 years
  • Pregnant women
  • People 65 years of age and older
  • People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions

People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including:

  • Health care workers
  • Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu
  • Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated)
  • People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities

There are some people who should not be vaccinated without first consulting a physician. These include

  • People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs.
  •  People who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination.
  •  People who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) within 6 weeks of getting an influenza vaccine.
  • Children less than 6 months of age (influenza vaccine is not approved for this age group), and
  • People who have a moderate-to-severe illness with a fever (they should wait until they recover to get vaccinated.)

Influenza vaccine may rarely cause serious side effects in some people

Different side effects can be associated with the flu shot and LAIV.

The flu shot: The viruses in the flu shot are killed (inactivated), so you cannot get the flu from a flu shot. Some minor side effects that could occur are

  • Soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
  • Fever (low grade)
  • Aches

If these problems occur, they begin soon after the shot and usually last 1 to 2 days. Almost all people who receive influenza vaccine have no serious problems from it. However, on rare occasions, flu vaccination can cause serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions. As of July 1, 2005, people who think that they have been injured by the flu shot can file a claim for compensation from the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) (http://www.hrsa.gov/Vaccinecompensation).

LAIV (FluMist®): The viruses in the nasal-spray vaccine are weakened and do not cause severe symptoms often associated with influenza illness. (In clinical studies, transmission of vaccine viruses to close contacts has occurred only rarely.)

Side effects from LAIV (FluMist®) can include In children:

  • runny nose
  • wheezing
  • headache
  • vomiting
  • muscle aches
  • fever

In adults:

  • runny nose
  • headache
  • sore throat
  • cough

MORE INFORMATION ON FLU VACCINATION CAN BE FOUND AT http://cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/index.htm

Aside from vaccination, there are steps you can take to prevent spreading influenza to others:

  • Wash your hands often, especially after coughing, sneezing, and wiping or blowing the nose.
  •  Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing.
  • Use paper tissues when wiping or blowing your nose; throw tissues away after each use.
  •  Stay away from crowded living and sleeping spaces, if possible.
  • Stay home and avoid contact with other people to protect them from catching your illness.