Protect Yourself from Seasonal Flu

The Basics

The Basics: Overview

Everyone age 6 months and older needs to get a flu vaccine every year. Seasonal flu vaccines are the best way to protect yourself and others from the flu.

For many people, the seasonal flu is a mild illness. But sometimes, the flu can be serious or even deadly.

The flu:

  • Is linked to serious infections like pneumonia (“noo-MOHN-yah”)
  • Can make existing health problems worse (for example, long-term heart or lung disease)
  • Can lead to hospitalization or death

Flu vaccines can help prevent people from getting sick with the flu – and reduce the risk of hospitalizations and death caused by the flu.

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

When do I need to get the seasonal flu vaccine?

It’s best to get a flu vaccine by the end of October if you can. 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 to spread in your community.

If you don’t get the vaccine by the end of October, it’s not too late. Getting the vaccine later can still protect you from the flu. Keep in mind that flu season can last as late as May.

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The Basics: Flu Symptoms

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 when someone with the flu coughs, sneezes, or talks. It's also possible to get the flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. 

Symptoms of the flu may include:

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

For some people, the flu may also cause vomiting (throwing up) and diarrhea (frequent, watery poop). This is more common in children than adults.

Remember, not everyone with the flu has a fever.

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The Basics: Flu Vaccines

How is the flu vaccine given?

You can get the flu vaccine as a shot or as a nasal spray.

The best way to protect yourself and others around you is to get a flu vaccine every year.

Are there any side effects from seasonal flu vaccines?

For many people, getting a flu vaccine doesn’t cause any side effects. If it does cause side effects, they are usually mild and begin soon after the vaccine is given. Side effects from flu vaccines usually last 1 to 2 days.

Side effects from the flu shot may include:

  • Soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
  • Low fever
  • Aches

Side effects from the nasal spray vaccine may include:

  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Headache

These side effects aren’t the flu. You can’t get the flu from flu vaccines.

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The Basics: Am I at Risk?

Am I at high risk for serious 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 especially important to get a vaccine before the flu starts to spread in your community.

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

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The Basics: Flu Medicine

Is there medicine that can treat the flu?

Yes. 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. They can also prevent serious flu complications.

If you are at high risk for complications from the flu and you get flu symptoms, it’s important to ask your doctor about antiviral drugs right away. If you need to go to the hospital because of flu complications, doctors may use antiviral drugs to treat you.

Antiviral drugs work best if you start taking them in the first 2 days after you get sick. But they may still help if you take them later on, especially if you are very sick.

Get the facts about flu antiviral medicine.

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Take Action!

Take Action: Get a Flu Vaccine

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

Find out where to get a flu vaccine near you.

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

What about cost?

Under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010, insurance plans must cover seasonal flu vaccines.

  • 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 vaccine for free.

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

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Take Action: Protect Yourself

Protect yourself and others from the flu.

Getting a flu vaccine is the first and most important step in protecting yourself from the flu.

Here are some other things you can do to help protect yourself and others from the flu:

  • Stay away from people who are sick with the flu.
  • 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. This helps keep germs from spreading.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze – whether or not you have the flu. Throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean surfaces and objects that may have flu germs on them, like doorknobs. Use hot, soapy water or a household cleaner.
  • If you have the flu, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. (Your fever should be gone without using a fever-reducing medicine.)

Remember, people with the flu can spread it to others even if they don’t feel sick. Usually, adults with the flu can spread the virus starting the day before they first feel sick – and up to 5 to 7 days after they first felt sick. Children may be able to spread the virus for even longer than 7 days.

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