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Flu (Influenza)

Millions of people get the flu each year — and the aches, chills, and serious risks that can come with it. Learn more about this nasty bug.

What is flu? arrow top

Teen girl in bed with the flu.Flu is an illness caused by several different viruses. Here are some key points about flu:

  • Flu can cause fever, tiredness, headaches, muscle aches, a cough, a sore throat, and a runny or stuffy nose. The flu can seem like a cold, but flu symptoms usually are worse.
  • Flu can be pretty mild, but it can be very serious for older people, newborn babies, pregnant women, and people with certain illnesses, such as asthma or diabetes.
  • In the United States, seasonal flu usually strikes starting in the fall and going through early spring.
  • You catch the flu from other people. You can’t catch it from eating certain types of food.
  • The viruses that cause flu change over time.

Can a flu vaccine help? arrow top

Getting a flu shot or nasal spray is the best way to protect yourself from the flu. Here are some key points about the vaccine:

  • Everyone 6 months of age and older should get the flu vaccine as soon as it is available.
  • Some children 8 years old and younger may need two doses of the vaccine. A doctor or nurse can explain which children need two doses.
  • The vaccine comes in either a shot or a nasal spray. The spray is only for healthy people between 2 and 49 years old who are not pregnant. Ask your doctor if the spray is an option for you.
  • The vaccine is considered very safe.

What else can I do to stay safe from flu? arrow top

Take these steps to protect yourself — and everyone around you — from flu:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue away after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. You can also use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Stay home at least 24 hours after your fever goes away. (It counts only if your fever stays down by itself, without help from Tylenol or other fever-reducing medicine.)

What if I get the flu? arrow top

If you get the flu, ask your doctor about medicines called antivirals. You may be able to take these medicines to help you feel better.


Content last reviewed December 05, 2012
Page last updated October 31, 2013