Top 5 Questions for Your Doctor about Flu

Can I get the flu vaccine?

The best thing to do to prevent the flu is to get the flu vaccine each year. Health officials recommend that everyone 6 months of age and older receive an influenza vaccination each and every year. Most likely, this includes you and your entire family. Your doctor can administer the flu vaccine or you can use the Flu Vaccine Finder to find one near you.

What else can I do to protect myself from the flu?

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 if you are around someone else who is sick. Most deaths and hospitalizations from influenza occur in babies, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. But most flu transmissions come from young, healthy, unvaccinated children and adults. That's why it's recommended that everyone over the age of six months is vaccinated against influenza.

Keep it to yourself. One gift you can give to 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.

Can I die from the flu?

Each year thousands of Americans die from flu and its complications. For healthy children and adults, influenza is typically a moderately severe illness. Most people are back on their feet within a week. Certain groups of people are more susceptible to complications related to the flu and are considered "high risk." These groups include the elderly, very young children and people with chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems. For people who are not healthy to begin with, influenza can be very severe and even fatal. If you are considered "high risk," you should do everything you can to prevent the flu.

How do I know if I have the flu?

It is hard to know for sure you have the flu on the basis of symptoms alone. A doctor's exam may be needed to tell whether you have developed the flu or a complication of the flu. There are tests that can determine if you have the flu as long you are tested within the first two or three days of illness.

If you develop flu-like symptoms and are concerned about your illness, especially if you are at high risk for complications of the flu, you should talk to your healthcare provider. There are rapid diagnostic tests that can be ordered and many providers use antiviral medications when they are confident of the diagnosis.

What should I do if I have the flu?

Anyone concerned about their illness should consult a healthcare provider. The best thing to do is to stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care. If you are considered high risk, it is important to contact your healthcare provider right away. People at high risk are more likely to suffer from severe complications from the influenza virus. Pneumonia is the most common serious complication of influenza.

Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.

Page last updated: June 7, 2024

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