Flu (influenza) and flu vaccine
What is flu?
Flu (short for “influenza”) is a very contagious disease of the body’s respiratory (breathing)
system. It is caused by a virus. Flu symptoms include sudden fever, cough, muscle aches,
headache, and general weakness. Flu may also cause runny nose and sore throat. These
symptoms can range from very mild to very severe. Diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting are not
signs of flu in adults.
Should I get a flu vaccine?
In certain people, flu can cause serious
complications. Each year, flu kills about Those in the following groups should receive a
36,000 people in the United States, most of flu vaccine:
them elderly. Others at risk for serious
complications include young children, People 50 and over
pregnant women, and people with chronic Pregnant women
illness or problems with their immune People with certain chronic medical
system. People with weakened immune systems
Those who live in a nursing home or
Reducing the risk of flu another long-term care facility
Health care workers
Vaccination and hygiene practices that Children aged 6-59 months of age (i.e. 6
months – 4 years)
reduce the spread of germs are the best Children 6 months to 18 years who are on
ways to help prevent the spread of flu. aspirin therapy
Healthy household contacts and
Vaccination caregivers of children less than 5 years
Flu vaccine can help prevent the flu. old; adults 50 years old or more; and
others at high risk for flu complications,
However, flu viruses change often, so last with particular emphasis on those caring
year’s vaccine will not protect you this year. for babies less than 6 months old
You must get flu vaccine every year.
Anyone else wanting to decrease their risk of
getting the flu should consider getting a flu
Vaccination is available as a shot or as a vaccine.
mist sprayed in the nose. The shot is made
from an inactivated (killed) virus; the mist Note: Based on yearly supply, flu vaccines are
is made from a live, weakened flu virus. sometimes given to those at highest risk for
complications first. In some (but not all) cases,
The mist is given only to healthy persons this includes those who are in close contact
between the ages of 5 and 49. (People who with people in high-risk groups. If shortages
are in close contact with someone with a occur, you may be asked to wait until a certain
weakened immune system should not date before receiving your vaccine. During
shortages, vaccination is available to everyone
receive the mist vaccine.) Individuals who (while supplies last) after people at high-risk
are under 5, over 49, and those with certain are vaccinated.
medical problems receive the flu shot.
Reducing the spread of germs: Cleaning hands and other measures
It is always a good idea to do what you can to avoid the spread of germs. This is especially
important during flu season.
Clean your hands often. Use soap and water or an alcohol-based hand cleaner. (Only
use an alcohol-based cleaner if your hands do not have any visible soil on them.)
Avoid close contact with people who are sick. Those at risk for flu complications
should stay out of crowded places during times when a lot of people have the flu.
If you have symptoms of flu, stay home from work or school and avoid public
activities for at least 5 days (7 for children).
If you cough or sneeze, cover your nose and mouth, but NOT with your hands. Use a
tissue, throw the tissue away after use, then clean your hands. If you do not have a
tissue, cover your cough or sneeze with your shoulder or upper sleeve, not your hands.
Do not share items that can spread germs and viruses, such as drinking cups,
straws, or other items you put in your mouth.
Try not to touch your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs can spread this way.
Clean things that are touched often at home or at school or work. This includes
doors, refrigerator handles, phones, and water faucets.
Are there some people who should not get the flu vaccine?
Certain people should always check with their doctor before receiving a flu vaccine. This
includes: people with a severe allergic reaction to eggs or to a previous dose of flu vaccine,
those who are sick at the time the vaccine is scheduled, or people who have a history of
Guillain-Barré syndrome. Flu vaccine is not approved for children less than 6 months old.
When should I get the flu vaccine?
The best time to get vaccinated is October or November. But getting vaccinated in
December or even later can still be helpful. As noted above, depending on the supply of flu
vaccine, you may be asked to wait until a certain date before receiving your vaccine if you
are not in a high-risk group.
Beth Israel Deaconess flu information
How can I learn more?
Call the Flu Information Line at Beth Israel Deaconess (see box).
Call the Massachusetts Department of Public Health flu vaccine hotline at
1-888-658-2850 or visit the Mass Department of Public Health website at
http://www.state.ma.us/dph and click on the large “flu” circle on the right of the screen.
Contact your doctor, nurse, clinic, or local board of health
This material is provided by clinicians from the Infectious Diseases Department at Beth Israel Deaconess Learning Center. It is adapted
from material provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This fact sheet is produced and distributed by the Beth Israel
Deaconess Learning Center. ©2007, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. All rights reserved. MC0061 REV 9/07