Preventing Influenza

If you are concerned about getting the flu or you are at high risk, there are steps you can take to protect yourself.

Get a Flu Vaccine Each Year

The best way to prevent the influenza is to get a flu vaccine every year. The influenza virus is constantly changing. Each year, scientists work together to identify the virus strains that they believe will cause the most illness, and a new vaccine is made based on their recommendations.

The best time to get the flu vaccine is soon after it becomes available in the fall of each year. Anyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting sick with the flu or of spreading it to others can get vaccinated. Health experts especially recommend that the following people get the seasonal vaccine each year:

  • Children aged 6 months up to their 19th birthday
  • Pregnant women
  • People 50 years of age and older
  • People of any age with certain medical conditions, including chronic lung disease
  • People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including health care workers, household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu, and caregivers of children less than 6 months of age who are too young to be vaccinated

There are two vaccine options available in the United States.

The flu shot. The viruses in the flu shot are inactivated, which means that someone receiving the vaccine cannot get influenza from the flu shot. The exposure to the inactivated influenza virus helps our bodies develop protection by producing antibodies. The amount of antibodies in the body is greatest one to two months after vaccination and then gradually decline. After receiving the flu shot it usually takes about two weeks for the body to develop immunity to influenza.

Two important things to know about the flu shot:

  • An American Lung Association study showed that the flu shot is safe for people with asthma.
  • The flu shot is covered by Medicare and other health insurance
  • Most people experience little or no reaction to the flu shot. The most common side effect is a swollen, red, tender area where the vaccination is given

FluMist. FluMist is a nasal spray approved to protect people from getting the flu. The nasal spray is made from live but weakened virus strains. FluMist is only approved by the FDA for healthy people ages 2-49. It has not been proven safe for high risk populations. High-risk groups, such as people with asthma and COPD, should receive a flu shot.

To find a flu vaccine near you, visit the Flu Vaccine Finder.

Practice Good Health Habits

  • Wash your hands often. The most common way to catch the flu is to touch your own eyes, nose or mouth with germy hands. So keep your hands clean, and away from your face. Wash hands with soap and warm water for 30 seconds, or about the amount of time it takes you to sing "Happy Birthday" twice.
  • Keep your distance when you are sick or if you are around someone else who is sick.
  • Keep it to yourself. One gift you can give others is to help prevent other people from catching your flu. We highly recommend that you stay home from work, school and public places when you are sick. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow when coughing or sneezing, but never you hand. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.

Remember, getting an influenza vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from the flu. The shot only takes about two weeks to take effect so it can be effective even if the season has started in your area, and as late in the year as March.