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NOTE: Much of the information on this page overlaps with the same information presented on other pages about influenza. However, this is such an important subject that it bears repetition.

WHAT IS INFLUENZA (FLU)? Influenza (flu) is an illness caused by a virus. Flu viruses are always changing, so this winter's flu will be slightly different from last winter's.

HOW IS FLU SPREAD? Flu is spread by the coughs and sneezes of people who are already infected with the virus. It can spread very rapidly.

HOW DO I KNOW IF I HAVE FLU? A lot of people confuse flu with a heavy cold. But flu has symptoms that you don't get with a cold:

  • a high fever
  • a 'shivery' feeling
  • a headache
  • aching limbs
  • no energy
What also makes flu different from a cold is that it usually starts suddenly.

HOW LONG DOES FLU LAST? You may feel ill and have a temperature for up to a week. You could feel weak and in low spirits for several weeks longer.

HOW SERIOUS IS FLU? For most people flu is a nasty experience, but for some, it can lead to more serious illnesses such as bronchitis and pneumonia. These illnesses may need treatment in hospital.

WHO NEEDS FLU VACCINATION? You are advised to have a flu vaccination if you are:

  • 65 years and over,
or whatever your age if you have:
  • a long term heart or chest complaint including asthma,
  • long term kidney disease,
  • diabetes,
  • lowered immunity due to disease or treatment such as steroid medication or cancer treatment, or any other serious medical condition - check with your doctor if you are unsure.

Vaccine is also recommended for:
  • people living in places where there is a high risk of flu spreading rapidly, such as nursing and residential homes.

WHAT SHOULD I DO IF I GET FLU? A virus causes flu, so antibiotics won't help unless the flu has led to another illness. You can take a painkiller such as paracetamol or aspirin to help relieve the headache and muscle pains and reduce your temperature. But don't give aspirin to children under 12 years old.

The best way to treat flu is to:

  • stay at home, keep warm and rest - this will help you recover more quickly in the long run,
  • drink plenty of non-alcoholic liquids to replace the fluid lost in sweating, and
  • eat what you can.

You can make a feverish child more comfortable by sponging him or her with tepid (not cold) water.

If you live on your own, tell a friend or neighbour you are ill so that they can check on you, bring in some food or do any essential shopping.

SHOULD I CONTACT THE DOCTOR? There is no need to contact your doctor, unless:

  • you are frail or elderly, or have one of the conditions above
  • your temperature doesn't settle after four or five days
  • your symptoms get worse
  • you think you are seriously ill
  • you develop chest pain or become short of breath.

If you are just worried, it's best to discuss your symptoms over the 'phone rather than making an appointment to see your doctor.

CAN I AVOID GETTING FLU? It is difficult to avoid flu if there is an epidemic. Keeping away from crowded places can help. You could also encourage people with flu to stay at home to avoid infecting others.

WHAT ABOUT HELPING OTHERS? If you know there is flu around, be a good neighbor:

  • watch out for signs that a neighbor may be ill - for example, milk bottles on the doorstep or curtains closed during the daytime
  • offer to make drinks or do the shopping for a sick neighbor if they live alone or if you think they may not be able to cope.

WHY SHOULD I GET A FLU SHOT?? Influenza (flu) is a viral infection that can lead to a much more serious illness like pneumonia or bronchitis. Thousands of people die each year in the United States from the flu or related complications.

Flu and pneumonia together are the sixth leading cause of death in the United States, and senior adults are especially vulnerable. Flu shots can help you protect your friends and family. By protecting yourself, you avoid catching the flu and spreading it to others.

People 65 and over who contract the flu are more likely than younger people to have serious complications like pneumonia. The chronically ill and disabled may also be at high risk of complications from flu. Even if the flu does not lead to complications, it can make you very uncomfortable. Flu causes head- ache, fever, chills, weakness, aching muscles and red, watery eyes.

CAN FLU SHOTS GIVE ME THE FLU? No, flu shots cannot give you the flu. All shots have possible side effects, but they are usually mild. You may have symptoms like swelling or soreness around the injection or you may have a low fever.

Sometimes people have a severe reaction to a shot but those cases are rare. However, you should not get the flu shot if you are allergic to eggs. In any case, ask your doctor if there is any reason to believe that you will have a bad reaction to a flu shot.

The flu vaccine cannot totally prevent you from getting the flu. But if you get a flu shot and then you get the flu during the flu season, you should not become as sick as you would have without the shot.

WHERE CAN I GET A FLU SHOT? It's easy to get a flu shot. You can get a flu shot at your doctor's office, the health department, or even while you are in the hospital. Medicare will pay for flu shots even if you do not have a doctor’s order. Medicare will pay for your shot anywhere flu shots are given under Medicare rules.

Even though Medicare pays for flu shots, less than half of all seniors age 65 and over get their flu shots each year. If you’re a senior or know someone who is, encourage them to get a flu shot annually.

WHEN SHOULD I GET A FLU SHOT? You should get a flu shot every year. Even if you have had the flu last year, you need to protect yourself against each new type of flu every year. The best time to get your shot is in the fall--usually beginning in October. But, you may get your shot earlier if it is easier for you to do that.

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Date of Last Update: 07/27/12