U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Protect Yourself from Seasonal Flu

The Basics

The Basics: Overview

Everyone age 6 months and older needs to get a flu vaccine every year. The seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others from the flu.

For many people, the seasonal flu is a mild illness. But for some people, the flu can be dangerous or even deadly.

The flu can sometimes:

  • Cause serious infections like pneumonia (“noo-MOHN-yah”)
  • Make some health problems worse (for example, asthma)
  • Lead to hospitalization or death

The flu spreads easily from person to person. When you get the flu vaccine, you don’t just protect yourself – you also protect everyone around you.

Next section 1 of 7 sections

The Basics: Definition

What is the flu?
The flu is caused by viruses that infect your nose, throat, and lungs. It’s easily spread from person to person.

Symptoms of the flu may include:

  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body aches
  • Fever of 100°F or higher
  • Feeling feverish or having chills

Remember, not everyone with the flu has a fever. 

Next section Previous section 2 of 7 sections

The Basics: People at Higher Risk

Am I at high risk for complications from the flu?
For some people, the flu is more likely to cause serious illness that can lead to hospitalization or even death. 

People at high risk for getting complications from the flu include:

If you are at high risk from the flu, it’s very important to get the vaccine before the flu starts to spread in your community. 

If you spend time with someone at high risk from the flu, you can protect both of you by getting a flu vaccine.

Next section Previous section 3 of 7 sections

The Basics: Vaccine Options

When do I need to get the seasonal flu vaccine?
Get the flu vaccine soon after it’s available each year – if possible, by October. After you get the vaccine, it takes about 2 weeks for your body to develop protection against the flu. That’s why it’s a good idea to get the vaccine before the flu starts spreading in your community.

Flu season is different from year to year. It can start as early as October and last as late as May.

How is the flu vaccine given?
Most people get the flu vaccine as a shot. But some people may choose to get the flu vaccine as a nasal spray instead. 

Is the flu nasal spray right for me?
Flu nasal spray isn't recommended for everyone. People who can't get the nasal spray include:

  • Children under age 2
  • Adults over age 50
  • Pregnant women
  • People with weakened immune systems

Learn more about the nasal spray flu vaccine.

Next section Previous section 4 of 7 sections

The Basics: Vaccine Side Effects

Are there any side effects from the seasonal flu vaccine?
Most people don’t have any side effects after getting the flu vaccine. Some people may have mild side effects. These side effects begin soon after the vaccine is given and usually last 1 to 2 days. These side effects aren’t the flu.

Flu shot
People who get the flu shot may feel achy or have a sore arm where the shot was given. You can’t get the flu from the flu shot because it’s made from killed flu viruses.

Flu nasal spray
People who get the nasal spray may have a stuffy nose and sore throat afterward. The flu viruses in the nasal spray are weakened and can’t cause the flu.

Check out these key facts about the seasonal flu vaccine.

Next section Previous section 5 of 7 sections

Take Action!

Take Action: Get the Vaccine

Flu vaccines are offered in many locations. You can get a flu vaccine at a doctor’s office or health clinic, or from your local health department, pharmacy, or employer.

Find out where to get the flu vaccine near you.
Use this vaccine locator to find out where you can get a flu vaccine near you.

What about cost?
Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010, insurance plans must cover the seasonal flu vaccine.

  • Depending on your insurance, you may be able to get the flu vaccine at no cost to you. Talk to your insurance company to find out more. 
  • If you have Medicare Part B, you can get a flu shot for free.

To learn more about other services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit HealthCare.gov.

Next section Previous section 6 of 7 sections

Take Action: Other Tips

Fight the flu.
Getting the flu vaccine is the first and most important step in protecting yourself from the flu. Here are some other things you can do to keep from getting and spreading the flu:

  • Stay away from people who are sick with the flu.
  • If you are sick, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand rub (hand sanitizer).
  • Try not to touch your nose, mouth, or eyes.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.

Is there medicine I can take for the flu?
If you get sick with the flu, your doctor may prescribe medicines called antiviral drugs. Antiviral drugs can help you feel less sick and shorten the time you are sick. Get the facts about flu antiviral medicine.

Previous section 7 of 7 sections