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Frequently Asked Questions

General Flu FAQs

What is influenza?

Influenza (also known as the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses that can cause mild to severe illness. Influenza usually comes on suddenly and typically includes fever, cough and sore throat, as well as headache, extreme tiredness, runny or stuffy nose and muscle aches. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are other flu symptoms.

How severe is illness associated with contracting the flu?

Illness with the flu virus ranges from mild to severe. While most people who have been sick have recovered without needing medical treatment, hospitalizations and deaths from infection with this virus have occurred. If you are ill, refer to the "Treatment" section to determine the severity of your symptoms.

How long can an infected person spread this virus to others?

People infected with seasonal flu shed the virus through their nose and mouth secretions and may be able to infect others from one day before showing symptoms to five to seven days after. This can be longer in some people, especially children and people with weakened immune systems.

Prevention FAQs

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

A vaccine for the seasonal flu is available every year. In addition to vaccination, there are everyday actions that can help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses such as influenza.

Will wearing a mask keep me from getting sick?

Wearing a mask or respirator may help reduce your chance of getting sick, but will not eliminate the risk of disease, illness or death. How well they work depends on how tightly they fit to your face. Because no respirator provides complete protection against infection, you should always practice other infection control measures like frequent hand washing, staying away from others when you are sick and avoiding crowded places.

What are other preventive actions I can take to limit the spread of illness?
  • Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds and other social distancing measures
  • Be prepared in case you get sick and need to stay home for up to a week. Having a supply of over-the-counter medicines, alcohol-based hand sanitizers (for use when soap and water are not available), tissues and other related items could help you to avoid the need to make trips out in public while you are sick and contagious
Are there any resources for businesses and employers on preventing the spread of the flu in the workplace?

Yes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has many educational resources and tools available on its website. These resources are free and available to the public. To view these resources, visit the CDC's website.

Vaccine FAQs

Vaccine supply and distribution

When does the flu vaccine become available?
The CDC recommends that providers begin to offer seasonal influenza vaccination as soon as vaccine becomes available, usually in early fall.

Where will the vaccine be available?
Each state has developed a vaccine delivery plan. Vaccine may be available in different places, such as vaccination clinics organized by local health departments, health care provider offices, schools, and other private settings, such as pharmacies and workplaces. The public can find flu vaccination clinics by visiting Utah's Vaccine Locator or by contacting their local health department.

Are there different types of vaccine?
The vaccine is available in two forms: a live, attenuated intranasal vaccine (or LAIV), which is a nasal spray; or an inactivated vaccine (a vaccine that has dead virus in it) that is injected into the muscle, just like the seasonal flu shot.

Vaccine recommendations

Isn't it better to get natural immunity from the disease rather than risk serious side effects from the vaccine?
The risk from the vaccine is far less than the risk of actual exposure to the influenza virus. Purposely exposing yourself or family members to the virus is potentially dangerous, especially for those who already have serious medical conditions, and also will help the virus spread throughout the community, putting others at risk. Additionally, if you purposely expose your child, he or she could unknowingly then expose a pregnant woman, infant or other relative who could become dangerously ill from the virus.

Am I required to get the influenza vaccine?
No. Getting vaccinated with the influenza vaccine is voluntary. Healthcare professionals recommend getting the influenza vaccine yearly, but the choice to vaccinate is yours.

Who should not get the vaccine?
  • People who have a severe (life-threatening) allergy to chicken eggs or to any other ingredient in the vaccine should not be vaccinated
  • People who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination
  • People who developed Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) within six weeks of getting an influenza vaccine previously
  • People who have a moderate-to-severe illness with a fever (they should wait until they recover to get vaccinated)
  • For more information about people who should and should not get vaccinated with the influenza vaccine, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website
Vaccine effectiveness, safety and side effects

Is the seasonal flu vaccine safe?
The process for manufacturing the flu vaccine has a very good safety track record. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) closely monitor for any signs that the vaccine may be causing unexpected adverse events.

Will the flu vaccine cause influenza?
No. The inactivated vaccine is made from a dead virus and cannot transmit the disease. The seasonal nasal spray influenza vaccine will contain live viruses. However, the viruses are weak and cannot cause influenza illness. Often, people who develop influenza after getting the vaccine were already exposed to the virus before being vaccinated and mistakenly think the vaccine caused the flu.

What are the side effects from the influenza vaccine?
The influenza vaccine, like any medicine, has a potential to cause side effects, such as severe allergic reactions. But, life-threatening allergic reactions, such as difficulty breathing, are very rare and usually occur within a few minutes to a few hours after the vaccine is given. The most common side effects will probably be similar to those experienced following seasonal influenza vaccine and can include soreness, redness, or swelling where the vaccine was given, fainting (mainly adolescents), headache, muscle aches, fever and nausea. If side effects do occur, they usually begin soon after the vaccination and last one to two days.

What signs or symptoms should I look for after vaccination?
After vaccination, look for any unusual condition, such as a high fever or behavior changes. Signs of a serious allergic reaction can include difficulty breathing, hoarseness or wheezing, swelling around the eyes or lips, hives, paleness, weakness, a fast heartbeat or dizziness.

If any of these symptoms occur, seek medical attention right away. Tell your health care provider what happened, the date and time it happened and when the vaccination was given. Ask your health care provider to report the reaction by filing out a Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) form. You can also file this report yourself through the VAERS Web site. You may call 1-800-822-7967 to receive a copy of the VAERS form. VAERS is not able to provide medical advice.

I've heard that the influenza vaccine may cause Guillain-Barre Syndrome. What is that?
Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) is a rare disease in which the body damages its own nerve cells, causing muscle weakness and sometimes paralysis. In 1976, there was a small risk of Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) following influenza (swine flu) vaccination (approximately one additional case per 100,000 people who received the swine influenza vaccine).

Is there a possibility of getting Guillain-Barre syndrome from the seasonal flu vaccine?
Since 1976, many studies have been done to evaluate whether other influenza vaccines were associated with GBS. In most studies, no association was found, but two studies suggested that approximately one additional person out of 1 million vaccinated people may be at risk for GBS associated with the seasonal influenza vaccine. The FDA and CDC closely monitor reports of serious problems following influenza vaccination, including GBS.

Vaccine ingredients

What is an adjuvant and will the seasonal influenza vaccine contain adjuvants?
Adjuvants are ingredients that help boost the vaccine's potency. The flu vaccine will not contain adjuvants in the United States.

What is thimerosal and will the flu vaccine contain it?
Thimerosal is a mercury-based preservative that has been used for decades in the United States in multi-dose vials (vials containing more than one dose) of some vaccines to prevent contamination from bacteria and fungi. Such contamination could cause serious illness or death. Seasonal influenza vaccines are approved by the Food and Drug Administration and are available in different formulations. Multi-dose vials contain thimerosal as a preservative to prevent potential contamination after the vial is opened. Single-dose vials and the live-attenuated nasal spray formulation do not contain thimerosal.

Does thimerosal cause autism?
Scientific studies have not found an association between thimerosal exposure and autism.

Other methods to reduce the spread of influenza

What other ways can I prevent the spread of illness?
Take everyday actions to stay healthy.

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water especially after you cough, sneeze or blow your nose. It is best to wash with warm water for about 20 seconds. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way
  • Stay home if you get sick. The CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them
  • Follow public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds and other social distancing measures.

What is the difference between vaccines and antiviral medications?
Vaccines stimulate the body's natural immune response so that you can fight the real virus if and when you are exposed to it - keeping the virus from being spread.

Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines (pills, liquid or an inhaled powder) that fight against influenza by keeping the viruses from reproducing in your body. If you get sick, antiviral drugs can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious influenza complications if taken within 1-2 days after symptoms begin. Antiviral medications are recommended for persons with severe illness or those at higher risk for flu complications.

 If You're Sick FAQs

The symptoms of the seasonal flu virus may include:
  • Fever
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Some people may also experience diarrhea or vomiting

Should I be tested to confirm I contracted the flu?
Your health care provider will decide if you should be tested to confirm if you contracted the flu, but in general, there is no benefit to testing generally healthy people for the virus.

Who is at increased risk for flu complications?
People at increased risk for flu complications are:
  • Children younger than 5 years old, particularly children younger than 2 years old, for whom the risk for severe complications from seasonal influenza is highest
  • Adults 50 years of age and older
  • Pregnant women
  • Persons with the following conditions:
    • Chronic diseases of the lung (including asthma), heart (except hypertension), kidney, liver, blood (including sickle cell disease), brain or nervous system, muscles (particularly those that cause difficulty with swallowing), or metabolism (including diabetes mellitus);
    • Immunosuppression (weakened immune system) including that caused by medications or by HIV;
    • Persons younger than 19 years of age who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy, because of an increased risk for Reye syndrome

I think I have the flu. Can I get tested and treatment for the seasonal flu?
Testing and treatment is not needed or recommended for most children and adults who get the flu. Antiviral medications are recommended for persons with severe illness or those at higher risk for flu complications

What should I do if I think I have the flu?
  • If you have the flu, you may be ill for a week or longer. Please stay home, except if you need medical care, so you can recover and prevent others from becoming ill
  • Drink plenty of liquids and rest as much as possible
  • Avoid travel
  • Do not go to work or school until your fever has been gone for at least 24 hours
  • Fever-reducing pain relievers such as ibuprofen (Motrin) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) are effective in helping relieve some symptoms, but do not use aspirin-containing medications

What should I do if I'm caring for someone with the flu?
Influenza is transmitted primarily through respiratory droplets from a cough, sneeze or other body fluids. People with the flu should limit their contact with others as much as possible. You should ask the person you're caring for to cover their mouth and nose when they sneeze or cough. You should clean your hands often by washing with soap and water and using alcohol-based gels and wipes.

Who needs to call or visit a health care provider?
Most children and adults in generally good health will recover from the flu without needing to visit a health care provider. People at increased risk for flu complications should call their regular provider to determine whether they should be seen.

High-risk patients include:
  • Children under age 5 - especially those under age 2
  • Adults age 50 years of age and older
  • Pregnant women
  • People with chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes or other conditions affecting the heart, lungs, blood, liver or kidneys
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • People under age 19 on long-term aspirin therapy

When should I see a health care provider right away?
If you become ill and experience any of the following warning signs, go to an emergency room or urgent-care center.

For children, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:
  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish or gray skin color (call 911 immediately)
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child doesn't want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and cough
For adults, emergency warning signs that need urgent medical attention include:
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and cough

What about antiviral medication?
Antiviral medications are recommended for persons with severe illness or those at higher risk for flu complications