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Fact Sheet About Flu and Flu Vaccine Updated Oct 6, 2004
Release Date: October 06, 2004


What Everyone Should Know About Flu and Flu Vaccine

What is Flu?

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine each fall.

Every year in the United States, on average:

  • 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu;
  • more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications, and;
  • 36,000 people die from flu.

Some people are at high risk for serious flu complications, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions.

Symptoms & Complications of Flu

Symptoms of flu include:

  • fever (usually high),
  • headache,
  • extreme tiredness,
  • dry cough,
  • sore throat,
  • runny or stuffy nose, and
  • muscle aches.
  • Gastro-intestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, are much more common among children than adults.

Some of the complications caused by flu include bacterial pneumonia, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes. Children may get sinus problems and ear infections.

How Flu Spreads

The flu spreads in respiratory droplets caused by coughing and sneezing. It usually spreads from person to person, though occasionally a person may become infected by touching something with virus on it and then touching their mouth or nose.

Adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before getting symptoms and up to 7 days after getting sick. That means that you can give someone the flu before you know you’re sick as well as while you are sick.

Preventing the Flu: Get a Flu Vaccine

The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine each fall.

There are two types of vaccines:

  • The "flu shot" -- an inactivated vaccine (containing killed virus) that is given with a needle. The flu shot is approved for use in people older than 6 months, including healthy people and people with chronic medical conditions.
  • The nasal-spray flu vaccine -- a vaccine made with live, weakened flu viruses that do not cause the flu (sometimes called LAIV for “Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine”). LAIV is approved for use in healthy people 5 years to 49 years of age who are not pregnant.

About two weeks after vaccination, antibodies that provide protection against influenza virus infection develop in the body.

When to Get Vaccinated

October or November is the best time to get vaccinated, but you can still get vaccinated in December and later. Flu season can begin as early as October and last as late as May.

Who Should Get Vaccinated? (revised)

TRENTON - October 5 In light of the announced shortfall in flu vaccine nationwide this season, New Jersey Health and Senior Services Commissioner Clifton R. Lacy, M.D. is encouraging individuals at low risk for complications due to influenza, to forego or defer flu vaccination this season. This is necessary to maximize the availability of the vaccine for those at high-risk for serious influenza-related health complications.

Full Text of News Release

The CDC, in coordination with the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP), issued interim recommendations for influenza vaccination this season. High-risk groups who are a priority for vaccination with the flu shot include:
  • All children ages 6 to 23 months
  • Adults age 65 and over
  • Individuals age 2 to 64 with underlying chronic medical conditions
  • All women who will be pregnant during influenza season
  • Residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities
  • Children 6 months to 18 years of age who are on chronic aspirin therapy
  • Healthcare workers with direct patient care
  • Out-of-home caregivers and household contacts of children age 6 months and younger

Persons who are not included in one of the priority groups above should be informed about the urgent vaccine supply situation and asked to forego or defer vaccination.

Who Should Not Be Vaccinated

There are some people who should not be vaccinated. This includes:

  • People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs.
  • People who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination in the past.
  • People who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) within 6 weeks of getting an influenza vaccine previously.
  • Children less than 6 months of age.
  • People who are sick with a fever. (These people can get vaccinated once their symptoms lessen.)
  • For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/flu, or call the National Immunization Hotline at (800) 232-2522 (English), (800) 232-0233 (español), or (800) 243-7889 (TTY).

    CDC: Who Should Get an Influenza (Flu) Vaccine

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