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 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.

  • It is recommended that everyone over the age of 6 months receive the yearly influenza vaccine.
  • Children between 6 months and 8 years of age may need two doses of flu vaccine to be fully protected from flu. Discuss this with your child's healthcare provider.
  • Children younger than 6 months of age are at higher risk of serious flu complications but are too young to get a flu vaccine. Because of this, safeguarding them from flu is especially important. If you live with or care for an infant younger than 6 months of age, you should get a vaccine to help protect them from the flu.
  • The best time to get the flu vaccine is soon after it becomes available in the fall of each year.

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. 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 your 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.