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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 2013-2014 flu season. Yearly flu vaccination is recommended for everyone six months and older.
 
LAST UPDATED 02/04/2014
 
Topics Covered on This Page
 

Flu Activity this Season

Is flu spreading in Spokane?
Flu is currently circulating in all areas of the state, including Spokane County. 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.

What is the most current data regarding flu in Spokane?

Flu Basics

What is influenza (also called the "flu")?     
Influenza is commonly called the "flu." Influenza is a highly contagious virus that infects the nose throat, and lungs and can cause moderate to severe respiratory illness.
 
When does flu occur?
Flu occurs in the United States most often in the fall and winter and commonly peaks in February and March in Spokane County.
 
What are the symptoms of flu?
People with flu often have:
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body aches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Headache
  • 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 viruses that cause flu change frequently. People who have had the flu or a flu shot in previous years may become infected with a new strain.
 
Why do I keep hearing about H1N1 (sometimes called the Swine Flu)?
The predominant strain of flu circulating in Spokane County is H1N1, or Swine Flu, the same virus that caused an epidemic during the 2009-2010 flu season. However, this year's flu vaccine does include the H1N1 strain, so if an individual received a flu vaccination in late 2013 or early 2014, they are protected against H1N1.

If I had a flu shot during the '09-'10 H1N1 flu season, or if I had the flu then, do I have immunity from this season's virus.
No. Flu vaccines only offer protection for flu season in which they are given. It is important to get a flu shot each year.

 
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)
 

About Flu Vaccine

How many types of flu vaccine are there?
There are two types of flu vaccine--a flu shot or the nasal spray. If you’re not sure which is best for you or your family, ask your doctor, nurse or clinic.

Flu shot (for anyone aged six months and older)
The flu shot, or Trivalent Inactivated Vaccine (TIV), contains inactivated (killed) viruses and may cause some soreness where the shot is given.

Nasal spray (for healthy kids, teens, and non-pregnant adults aged 2 to 49 years)
The nasal spray flu vaccine, or Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine (LAIV), contains live, weakened flu viruses. The spray can cause mild congestion and runny nose. Some may get a low-grade fever or feel achy for one to two days while their immune system responds to the vaccine. Check with your health care provider or local pharmacy about how to get the nasal spray (commonly called FluMist).

Find additional information on flu vaccine, TIV, and LAIV on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website.
 
Intradermal flu vaccine (for adults 18 to 64 years)
The intradermal flu vaccine is a shot that’s injected into the skin instead of the muscle and uses a smaller needle than the regular flu shot. Visit the CDC’s Intradermal Influenza Vaccination webpage for more information.
 
Is there a higher dose flu vaccine available for people aged 65 and older?
Yes. There is a special kind of flu vaccine called Fluzone High-Dose for people aged 65 and older. The vaccine is intended to give a stronger immune response than regular flu shots offering better protection against flu. Fluzone High-Dose is not recommended for people with a severe allergy to eating eggs, or people who have had a severe reaction to a flu vaccine in the past. Visit the CDC's Fluzone High-Dose Seasonal Flu Vaccine Web page for more information.
 
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. While the nasal spray vaccine contains live flu virus, the virus has been weakened, so it cannot grow in the lungs and cannot cause the flu. Some adults have reported mild and short-lasting side effects like runny nose, cough, chills, sore throat, and headache.
   
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 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 to get a 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. 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 kids under 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 should talk to their insurance carriers about coverage for flu vaccine.
 
How effective is the flu vaccine?
Flu vaccine effectiveness can vary from year to year. It depends on the match between the strains in the vaccine and the flu viruses that are circulating as well as the age and health of the person being vaccinated.
 
No vaccine is 100 percent effective, but flu vaccine can provide moderate protection for about one year and can help reduce the severity of the disease if you do get sick. Flu vaccine helps prevent illness; it doesn't treat it.
 
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?

***Walgreens has partnered with the City of Spokane to provide flu shots to those who have no insurance or are underinsured. Free vaccines will be available at all area Walgreens from Jan. 31, 2014 through Feb. 7, 2014 during regular pharmacy hours while supplies last.
 
or
  • 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:
  • Older people
  • Young kids, especially kids under age five
  • Kids 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
  • Health care professionals and caregivers of people in any of the above groups
  • American Indians/Alaska Natives
How many doses of flu vaccine does my child need?
Check with your doctor, nurse or clinic about how many doses your child needs.
 

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 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 kids 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 different 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.
 
Can Washington's legal limits on mercury in flu vaccines be suspended?
Yes. The Secretary of Health can temporarily suspend Washington's legal mercury (thimerosal) limit for a vaccine for two reasons:
  1. If there is an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease.
  2. If there is a shortage of vaccine available to protect public health against vaccine-preventable diseases.
Where can I find more information about the recent suspension of Washington state mercury limits on certain flu vaccines?
For more information, visit the Washington State Department of Health's Flu Vaccine Mercury Suspension webpage.
 
What are the concerns with certain flu vaccine and reports of seizures from high fever (febrile seizures)?
We have no reports of seizures related to high fever in Washington state. There are no changes in recommendations for childhood flu vaccination.
 
The FDA offers more information on its site: febrile seizures (seizures from high fever).
 

Prevention and Treatment of Flu

Protect yourself and others--use good health habits
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 upper 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 people who are in the hospital) and people who are sick with the flu and have a greater chance of getting serious flu complications, either because of 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 have a lab 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 or for other things  you have to do and no one else can do for you. 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 water 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 get the flu,visit the CDC's webpage, "The Flu: Caring for someone sick at home."
 

Antibiotics

Important information about antibiotics
Antibiotics don't work against viruses which cause colds or influenza. If you take antibiotics for a viral illness, you could develop resistant germs or "superbugs." Then, when you really need the antibiotic for a serious bacterial infection, it may not work. Find more information on DOH's antibiotics page.
 

Additional Cold & Flu Materials

Links

Spokane Regional Health District’s flu info can be found here.
Washington State Department of Health's flu info can be found here.
Washington State Department of Health's Weekly Influenza Report here.
PAML Respiratory Disease Report here.

We also encourage you to become a fan of SRHD on Facebook to receive up-to-date flu information and prevention tips. You can also follow us on Twitter @spokanehealth.

 


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September 21, 2014