Flu season runs from October 2012 through May 2013. The best way to avoid catching the flu is by getting a flu vaccination each year. Here's what you need to know.
Flu vaccine for the 2012-13 influenza season has begun shipping from manufacturers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Shipments will continue throughout the fall. Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a yearly vaccine. Flu season usually begins in October and can last through May. Get vaccinated before flu season starts.
The upcoming season's flu vaccine will protect against the three influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the season. This includes an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus. While the H1N1 virus used to make the 2012-2013 flu vaccine is the same virus that was included in the 2011-2012 vaccine, the recommended influenza H3N2 and B vaccine viruses are different from those in the 2011-2012 influenza vaccine for the Northern Hemisphere.
What is influenza (also called flu)?
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times lead to death. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year.
Signs and symptoms of flu
People who have the flu often feel some or all of these signs and symptoms:
- Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (very tired)
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
*It's important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.
To Find Out More
- MedlinePlus: medlineplus.gov/flu.html
- National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/Flu
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: http://flu.gov
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: www.cdc.gov/flu/
- ClinicalTrials.gov: www.clinicaltrials.gov; type "influenza" into the Search box to find the latest flu studies
How flu spreads
Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze, or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes, or possibly their nose.
Period of contagiousness
You may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time.
How serious is the flu?
Certain people are at greater risk for serious complications if they get the flu. This includes older people, young children, pregnant women, and people with certain health conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), and persons who live in facilities like nursing homes. Flu seasons are unpredictable and can be severe. Over a period of 30 years, between 1976 and 2006, estimates of flu-associated deaths in the United States range from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people.
Preventing seasonal flu: Get vaccinated
The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine each season. There are two types of flu vaccines:
- "Flu shots"—inactivated vaccines (containing killed virus) that are given with a needle. There are three flu shots being produced for the United States market now.
- The nasal-spray flu vaccine—a vaccine made with live, weakened flu viruses that is given as a nasal spray (sometimes called LAIV for "Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine"). The viruses in the nasal spray vaccine do not cause the flu. LAIV is approved for use in healthy people 2 to 49 years of age who are not pregnant.
About two weeks after vaccination, antibodies develop that protect against influenza virus infection. Flu vaccines will not protect against flu-like illnesses caused by non-influenza viruses.
If you have questions about whether you should get a flu vaccine, consult your healthcare provider.
Find Flu Clinics Near You at www.flu.gov
Use the Flu Vaccine Finder at www.flu.gov to find nearby locations offering flu shots or nasal spray flu vaccine. Locations are being added and updated throughout the season by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).