By Dona Hill
What is influenza?
Influenza, also called the flu, is a contagious viral infection of the nose and throat. Influenza is a serious illness that leads to approximately 20,000 hospitalizations, most in children younger than 5 years of age, and an average of 100 pediatric deaths in children less than 18 years old, nearly half of whom were previously healthy. Anyone can get influenza, but infection rates are highest among children (~20-30% annually). Influenza is not the same as the “stomach flu,” which is a viral infection of the stomach and intestines that will typically goes away on its own within a few days.
How is influenza spread?
Influenza is spread easily from person to person; when someone who has it sneezes, coughs or even talks, the virus passes into the air and can be breathed in by anyone nearby. People can also become infected by touching something–such as a surface or object–with influenza virus on it and then touching their mouth or nose.
What are the symptoms of influenza?
Influenza can come on very suddenly and usually includes a high fever with fatigue, aches, headache, cough, sore throat, a runny nose, and muscle pain. Children may have additional symptoms such as earaches, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.
How can individuals prevent getting influenza?
Annual vaccination is the best way to prevent influenza. The vaccine is safe and effective, and is given to tens of millions of individuals each year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a three-pronged approach: influenza vaccination, use of antiviral medications for treatment or prevention, and use of other measures to decrease the spread of influenza, including hand hygiene, cough etiquette, and staying home from work and school when ill.
Who should be vaccinated?
CDC recommends annual influenza vaccination for all individuals age 6 months and older.
UPDATE: The updated recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) regarding the use of seasonal influenza vaccines is available at: Prevention and Control of Seasonal Influenza with Vaccines, 2018-2019. Routine annual influenza vaccination is recommended for all persons age 6 months and older who do not have contraindications. A licensed, recommended, and age-appropriate vaccine should be used.
When should individuals get vaccinated?
Influenza usually circulates during the fall and winter each year in the United States, but it is impossible to tell exactly when activity will begin in a given area. Following vaccination, it takes about two weeks to become fully protected against influenza, so it is important to get immunized as soon as vaccine is available in your community. Getting the influenza vaccine anytime throughout the season continues to be beneficial. The immunity from vaccination continues to be protective throughout the fall, winter, and early spring.
How often do individuals need to be vaccinated?
The influenza vaccine is updated each year to protect against the viruses expected to circulate during the upcoming season. Individuals need to be vaccinated every year because the virus can change and the immune protection from the vaccine can decline over time. Most people only need one vaccine dose, but children younger than 9 years of age may need two doses of influenza vaccine to be fully protected.
Where can individuals get vaccinated?
Parents and caregivers should contact their pediatrician or other healthcare professional to request the influenza vaccine for their children, themselves, and other household contacts. Local hospitals, health clinics, and retail stores including pharmacies all offer vaccines. Some employers also hold vaccination clinics.