Frequently Asked Questions
How can I tell if it's the flu?
Many people confuse influenza (commonly known as the flu) with a cold or a 24-hour virus. Flu is a serious illness that causes high fever, headaches, body pains, extreme fatigue, sore throat, cough and other symptoms leaving a person feeling miserable and exhausted.
People who contract flu can be sick in bed for as long as a week or more. Some cases of flu are mild, but people often suffer complications or have a severe case. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that 36,000 Americans die and more than 200,000 are hospitalized each year due to complications from the flu.
The best protection from flu? An annual flu shot. Flu season is most prevalent from late December through March. But flu can occur other times during the year, so a flu shot each year is the most effective way to fight the flu.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
Symptoms of the flu may include:
- Fever (usually high)
- Extreme tiredness
- Dry cough
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle aches
- Accompanying stomach discomfort, including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children than adults)
What is the length of the flu season in Northern Virginia?
Most years flu activity peaks in this area during February and March. Check out this interactive map from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for the latest information on flu outbreaks in our area. Note: the map is updated weekly during the height of the flu season, October through mid-May.
Who is eligible for the flu shot?
The current recommendation is that everyone over six months of age should get an annual flu shot (see exceptions below).
People who should NOT get a flu shot
- People with severe allergy to eggs
- Anyone who has had a reaction to a flu shot in the past
- People who have had a previous episode of Guillain-Barre syndrome
- Children younger than 6 months old
- Anyone with a severe illness or fever, who should wait until the symptoms have lessened or gone away before getting a flu shot
Common myths & facts about flu
The flu is no more than a cold and is not serious – FALSE
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), every year in the United States on average 5 to 20 percent of the population gets the flu. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized and about 36,000 die from flu.
The virus can knock you out for 7 to 10 days, with debilitating symptoms including high fever and severe headache and muscle ache. Flu can lead to complications, including bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration and worsening of chronic medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes.
You can get the flu from a flu shot – FALSE
A flu shot cannot give you the flu. The flu vaccine contains dead flu viruses that cannot multiply or cause infection. Some people get mild flu-like symptoms, especially those being vaccinated for the first time. This is the result of the body's immune response as it builds protection against actual infection. These symptoms can include mild fever, headache and muscle aches and usually end within 24 to 48 hours.
Pregnant women should not get a flu shot – FALSE
A flu shot is safe at any point during pregnancy and will not affect breast milk. In addition to protecting the mother, a flu shot can protect newborns who are naturally at high risk from flu complications but cannot be vaccinated because their immune systems are not developed enough. Vaccinating those who come in close contact with a newborn can also help protect and reduce risk of infection.
You should get the flu shot even if you "never get sick" – TRUE
No one is totally immune from flu viruses, and coming down with the flu once is no protection from future flu outbreaks. You can get sick with the flu time and again. Flu spreads easily through breathing, coughing and sneezing — which is why it is considered such a contagious illness. It's easy to unknowingly touch or breathe in the tiny droplets from another person's cough or sneeze. In turn, if you touch your own mouth or nose before washing your hands, you can catch the flu.
The flu shot causes severe reactions or side effects – FALSE
The flu shot has proven to be extremely safe. Most people experience no symptoms after their shot other than some redness or soreness at the injection site.
Getting a flu shot every year weakens your immune system – FALSE
The flu shot prepares and boosts your immune system to help you fight the virus. A flu shot is the only only way to prevent the flu. In fact, the strains of virus that cause the flu often change every year, which is why an annual shot is necessary.
You should get a flu shot even when you suffer from allergies - TRUE
You can successfully get a flu shot even if you have allergies. If you are one of the rare individuals who has previously had an allergic reaction to the flu vaccine, or any of its components, including eggs, talk to your doctor before getting vaccinated.
The vaccine didn't work because I still got the flu – FALSE
There are many different types of colds and viruses that cause flu-like symptoms. The vaccine does not work against these other illnesses. It is only effective against the actual flu virus. In any given year, the current vaccine prevents infection in 70 to 90 percent of people who get the shot.
There are additional ways I can prevent colds and flu – TRUE
Viruses that cause colds and the flu are spread by hand contact and by breathing in droplets when a person coughs or sneezes. Handwashing is the best protection against a cold. Wash your hands often and avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. If possible, avoid close contact with people who are sick.
If you get sick, limit your exposure to others to help keep them from catching the same virus. Cover your mouth or nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Try to stay home. These tips may also help protect you against the flu, but the best way is to get a flu shot each fall.