What you need to know about the flu and the flu vaccine

By: Noe Mateo, MD .

man with flu taking his temperature
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

What is the flu?

The flu, or influenza, is a virus that infects your respiratory tract. There are different strains of the virus, which are continually evolving. Every year the vaccine is geared toward the strain that is predicted to be the most active during flu season.

What causes the flu?

The virus is passed from person to person through the air when an infected person sneezes or coughs. It might surprise you to know that the virus can live for up to 24 hours on objects like doorknobs, pens, keyboards and other commonly touched hard surfaces.

What are the symptoms?

While influenza is considered a respiratory disease, it can affect your entire body. Generally, people will become sick with many, if not all, of the following symptoms:

  • Severe cough
  • Exhaustion
  • Lingering fatigue
  • Headache
  • High fever
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Aches and pains
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

These symptoms are also present in many other medical problems. So, always talk to your health care provider for a diagnosis.

Can the flu be prevented?

The best way to prevent the it is to receive the vaccine. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends getting the flu shot every year as soon as it’s available in your community.

You can also prevent the virus by:

  • Limiting contact with those who are ill
  • Frequently washing your hands
  • Covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing

Is the flu shot safe?

The shot is safe and closely monitored by the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The flu shot cannot give you the flu.

Are there certain people who shouldn’t receive the vaccine?

Although the vaccine is safe, there are certain people who should not be vaccinated. This includes:

  • People who are allergic to eggs
  • People who have had a severe reaction to the shot in the past
  • People who are sick with a fever (They can receive the vaccine once they have recovered)
  • Babies who are 6 months old or younger
  • People who have a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome

How is the virus treated?

Treatment is focused on reducing the severity of your symptoms. It may include:

  • Antiviral medicines to reduce the length of the virus
  • Aspirin or acetaminophen to relieve aches and fever
  • Decongestants
  • Rest
  • Increased fluid intake