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FAQ - Influenza (Flu)

Frequently Asked Questions - Influenza (Flu)

Frequently updated information and resources about flu, flu vaccine and related topics for the 2016-2017 flu season. Yearly flu vaccination is recommended for everyone six months and older.
LAST UPDATED 09/07/2016
Topics Covered on This Page

Flu Activity this Season

Is flu spreading in Spokane?

While flu typically peaks in Spokane in January through mid-March, flu can be present in the community at any time. Protect yourself and others by getting the flu vaccine and using good health manners; washing hands, covering coughs, and staying home and away from others when sick.

Flu Basics

What is influenza (also called the "flu")?     
Influenza is commonly called the "flu." Influenza is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by a virus that infects the nose throat, and lungs. It can cause moderate to severe illness.

When does flu occur?
Flu occurs in the United States most often in the fall and winter. The virus commonly peaks in January through mid-March in Spokane County.

What are the symptoms of flu?
People with flu often have:

  • Fever
  • Cough, which can be severe
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body aches
  • Extreme fatigue (tiredness)
  • Headache, which can be severe
  • Some people may have vomiting or diarrhea–this is more common in children than in adults

If you or someone you know has these symptoms and they are severe, contact your doctor, nurse or clinic as soon as possible. The best way to tell if you have flu is for a health care provider to swab your throat and have a lab confirm the diagnosis.

How does flu spread?
The flu spreads easily from person to person by coughing and sneezing and can spread to others before a person knows they're sick. Adults can infect others one day before symptoms develop and up to five days after becoming sick. Kids can spread the virus for 10 or more days.

Does past infection with flu make a person immune?
No, because there are many viruses that cause flu and they change from year to year. People who have had the flu or a flu shot in previous years may become infected with a new strain.

How do you prevent the flu?
The best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu shot each year, as soon as vaccine is available. Using good health habits can also help stop the spread of flu: washing your hands, covering your cough, and staying home when you're sick.

How serious is the flu?
The flu is unpredictable and can be severe, especially for older people, young kids, pregnant women, and people with certain health conditions. These groups are at greater risk for serious complications if they get the flu, including:

  • Bacterial pneumonia
  • Ear infections
  • Sinus infections
  • Dehydration
  • Worsening of chronic medical conditions (asthma, congestive heart failure, or diabetes)
  • Death

About Flu Vaccine

There are several flu vaccine options for the 2016-2017 flu season.

Traditional flu vaccines made to protect against three different flu viruses (called “trivalent” vaccines) are available. In addition, flu vaccines made to protect against four different flu viruses (called “quadrivalent” vaccines) also are available. The nasal spray flu vaccine (live attenuated influenza vaccine or LAIV) should not be used during 2016-2017 due to a lack of proven effectiveness for preventing influenza.

Trivalent flu vaccine protects against two influenza A viruses (an H1N1 and an H3N2) and an influenza B virus. The following trivalent flu vaccines are available:

  • Standard-dose trivalent shots (IIV3) that are manufactured using virus grown in eggs. Different flu shots are approved for people of different ages, but there are flu shots that are approved for use in people as young as 6 months of age and up.
  • An intradermal trivalent shot, which is injected into the skin instead of the muscle and uses a much smaller needle than the regular flu shot. It is approved for people 18 through 64 years of age.
  • A high-dose trivalent shot, approved for people 65 and older.
  • A recombinant trivalent shot that is egg-free, approved for people 18 through 49 years of age.
  • A needle-free vaccine called Afluria is available. It uses a stream of fluid that goes through the skin and into the muscle. This vaccine is for persons 18 through 64.
  • A trivalent flu shot made with adjuvant (an ingredient of a vaccine that helps create a stronger immune response in the patient’s body), approved for people 65 years of age and older (new this season).

The quadrivalent flu vaccine protects against two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses. The following quadrivalent flu vaccines are available:

  • A quadrivalent flu shot approved for use in different age groups.
  • An intradermal quadrivalent flu shot, which is injected into the skin instead of the muscle and uses a much smaller needle than the regular flu shot.  It is approved for people 18 through 64 years of age.
  • A quadrivalent flu shot containing virus grown in cell culture, which is approved for people 4 years of age and older (new this season)

Find additional information on flu vaccine on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website.

Can flu vaccine give you the flu?
No. Flu vaccine cannot give you the flu.

Some people incorrectly believe that they can get flu from the vaccine. The flu shot only contains proteins from the flu virus, so the virus cannot reproduce itself and cause illness.    

Can I get the flu vaccine if I have an egg allergy?
In general, people who have egg allergies can still receive flu vaccine.  Most flu vaccines are manufactured using egg-based technology. Because of this, they contain a small amount of egg proteins. However, studies that have examined the use of flu shots in egg-allergic and non-egg-allergic patients indicate that severe allergic reactions in people with egg allergies are unlikely (1.31 per one million vaccine doses given).

·        Persons with a history of egg allergy who have experienced only hives after exposure to egg should receive flu vaccine. Any licensed flu vaccine that is otherwise appropriate for the recipient’s age and health status may be used.

·        Persons who report having had reactions to egg involving symptoms other than hives, such as angioedema, respiratory distress, light headedness, or recurrent emesis; or who required epinephrine or another emergency medical intervention, may similarly receive any licensed flu vaccine that is otherwise appropriate for the recipient’s age and health status. The selected vaccine can be administered in an inpatient or outpatient medical setting, and administration should be supervised by a health care provider who is able to recognize and manage severe allergic reactions.

See the CDC website for more information on flu vaccine and egg allergies. A previous severe allergic reaction to flu vaccine, regardless of the component suspected of being responsible for the reaction, is a contraindication for future receipt of the vaccine.

Does flu vaccine protect against viruses other than the flu?
No. Flu vaccine will not prevent illness from other flu-like viruses, including flu viruses not in the current flu vaccine. The vaccine contains three or four strains of flu viruses that research suggests will be circulating during the flu season.

Does vaccine protect throughout the flu season?
Yes. Getting vaccinated now will protect you throughout the flu season. Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself, your family, and your community from the flu. Be sure to check with your health care provider about getting a flu shot before flu viruses are circulating heavily in our area. A flu shot given in September has proven effective through the entire flu season (April-May of the following year) for the viruses contained in the flu shot.

How long does it take for the vaccine to protect people from the flu?
It takes about eight to ten days after a single dose for the vaccine to create a strong immune response in most healthy adults. It can take up to two weeks in people most vulnerable to serious complications from an influenza infection. If you're planning to travel, be sure to get your flu shot at least two weeks before your trip.

What is the cost of flu vaccination for children under 19 years of age?
The Washington State Department of Health provides flu vaccine to all children under age 19 at no cost. Health care providers may charge an office visit fee and a fee to give the vaccine, called an administration fee. People who cannot afford the administration fee can ask their regular health care provider to waive the cost. Adults with insurance can talk to their insurance provider about coverage for flu vaccine.

How effective is the flu vaccine?
Flu vaccine effectiveness is influenced by several factors. Every year the flu vaccine is formulated based on a best estimate of the predominant virus strains likely to be circulating that year. Some years the virus strain match is better than other years.

No vaccine is 100 percent effective at preventing illness. The flu vaccine can provide moderate protection and help reduce severity of disease, even during a season when the vaccine is not as well matched to the circulating strains as was predicted. Flu vaccine helps prevent illness for approximately 12 months. 

For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "Vaccine Effectiveness--How Well Does the Flu Vaccine Work?" page.


Where to Find Flu Vaccine

How do I find a flu vaccine?
  • Call your doctor, nurse or clinic.
  • Visit your local pharmacy.
  • Check the Flu Vaccine Finder.

Flu Vaccine Recommendations

Who should get flu vaccine?

Everyone six months and older should get a yearly flu shot! Certain people are at greater risk for serious complications and are especially encouraged to get a flu vaccine, including:

  • Adults 65 years and older
  • Young children, especially those between 6 months and five years
  • Children and adults of any age with certain chronic health conditions or special healthcare needs, such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, neurologic conditions, and certain other long-term health conditions
  • Pregnant women
  • Healthcare professionals and caregivers of people in any of the above groups
  • American Indians/Alaska Natives
  • People who are more than 100 pounds overweight

How many doses of flu vaccine does my child need?
Check with your doctor, nurse or clinic about how many doses your child needs. Generally, if your child has previously received at least 2 doses of seasonal influenza vaccine before July 1, 2016 and is between the ages of 6 months and 8 years, or if your child is over age 9, only one dose of influenza vaccine is recommended for the 2016-17 season.

If he or she is between 6 months and 8 years and has never received a flu vaccine or has never received at least two doses before July 1, 2016 s/he will need two doses of vaccine this season administered 4 weeks apart.

Vaccine Safety

Is the flu vaccine safe?
Yes. Flu vaccines have a very good and long safety record. Over the last 50 years, flu vaccines have been shown to be safe. The vaccine is made and rigorously tested in the same way each year, no matter what strains are included.

Like any medication, vaccines may have side effects. Every year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) works closely with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), health care providers, state and local health departments, and other partners to ensure the highest safety standards for flu vaccines. The CDC also works closely with the FDA to monitor unexpected health problems following vaccination.

Visit these links for more information about vaccine safety:

Are there side effects to the flu vaccine?
Side effects from the flu vaccine are mild, localized reactions. The most common side effects are:

  • Soreness, redness, tenderness, or swelling where the shot was given; headache, muscle aches, fever; and nausea. If these problems occur, they usually begin soon after the shot and last one to two days. Fainting after vaccination occasionally occurs in adolescents.

Life-threatening allergic reactions are rare. If they do occur, it's usually within a few minutes to a few hours after the shot was given.

People who get the flu vaccine will be screened for an allergy to eggs that may be a precaution but not necessarily a contraindication. A vaccine information statement will be provided at the time you get your shot about benefits and risks, signs of side effects to look for after vaccination and how to report side effects (also called adverse events).

What can I do if I have a side effect from a vaccine?
If you think you or your child may have a side effect from a vaccine, be sure to discuss this with your health care provider and either:

  • Ask your health care provider to file a report with the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).
  • File a report yourself with VAERS (follow instructions for online reporting).

Can I get a mercury-free (or thimerosal-free) flu vaccine?
Yes, it may be available. Mercury-free flu vaccines are available and meet the requirements of the mercury-limiting law that went into effect in Washington state on July 1, 2007. The law requires that pregnant women and children under age three be given vaccines that are mercury-free (or thimerosal-free).

What is thimerosal?
Thimerosal is a preservative still used in some versions of the flu vaccine to prevent contamination. Thimerosal contains a type of mercury called ethylmercury. Ethylmercury breaks down and leaves the body more quickly than methylmercury (the type of mercury found in the environment) and is much less likely to accumulate in the body and cause harm. A thimerosal-free influenza vaccine is defined as having less than 1.0 microgram of mercury per 0.5 milliliter dose.

Ask your doctor, nurse or clinic about mercury-free flu vaccines for you or your child or if you have more questions about this law.


Prevention and Treatment of Flu

Protect yourself and others
Take these simple precautions to help prevent the spread of flu:

  • Get a flu vaccine every year.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue or your sleeve, not your bare hand.
  • Use a tissue to wipe your nose, then throw the tissue away and wash your hands.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based hand gel or disposable wipes.
  • Stay home and away from others while you or your family members are sick.
  • Wear a mask to cover your face in a medical office, if asked.

Can the flu be treated?
Yes. There are medications called "antiviral drugs" that can be used to treat the flu. These drugs must be prescribed by a doctor.

Who should take antiviral drugs?
It’s very important that antiviral drugs be used early to treat people who are very sick with the flu (for example, hospitalized people) and those who are sick with the flu and have a greater chance of serious flu complications due to their age or because they have a high risk medical condition. Otherwise-healthy people who get the flu do not need to be treated with antiviral drugs.

Where can I find more information about antiviral drugs?
More information can be found by visiting the CDC's "What you should know about flu antiviral drugs" web page.

What should I do if I think I have the flu?
If you have flu symptoms and they are severe, contact your doctor, nurse or clinic as soon as possible, especially if you are at high risk of developing flu-related complications. The best way to tell if you have flu is for a health care provider to swab your throat and use a lab test to confirm the diagnosis. If you have the flu, antiviral drugs are a treatment option. 

How long should I stay home if I'm sick?
The CDC recommends that you stay home from work, school, travel, shopping, social events and public gatherings for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care. Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.     

Five steps to take if you get the flu

  1. Stay at home and rest.
  2.  Avoid close contact with well people in your house so you won't make them sick.
  3. Drink plenty of water and clear liquids to prevent fluid loss (dehydration).
  4. Treat fever and cough with medicines you can buy at the store.
  5. If you get very sick or are at high risk for flu complications, call your doctor
For more information about what to do if you or someone close to you gets the flu, visit the CDC's webpage, "The Flu: Caring for someone sick at home."


Important information about antibiotics

Antibiotics don't work against viruses that cause colds or influenza. Antibiotics are for illnesses caused by bacteria not viral illnesses. If you take antibiotics for a viral illness, you could develop resistant germs or "superbugs." Then, when you really need an antibiotic for a serious bacterial illness, it may not work. Find more information on DOH's antibiotics page.

Additional Cold & Flu Materials




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October 22, 2016