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Seasonal Influenza: Flu Basics (from the CDC line)
Influenza (the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness. Serious outcomes of flu infection can result in hospitalization or death. Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year.
The upcoming season's flu vaccine will protect against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the season. This includes an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and one or two influenza B viruses, depending on the flu vaccine.
Who Should Get Vaccinated This Season?
While everyone should get a flu vaccine this season, it’s especially important for some people to get vaccinated.
Those people include the following:
People who are at high risk of developing serious complications (like pneumonia) if they get sick with the flu.
People who have certain medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, and chronic lung disease.
Pregnant women.
People younger than 5 years (and especially those younger than 2), and people 65 years and older.
A complete list is available at People Who Are at High Risk of Developing Flu-Related Complications.
People who have medical conditions including:
Asthma
Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions [including disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerve, and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy (seizure disorders), stroke, intellectual disability (mental retardation), moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injury].
Chronic lung disease (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] and cystic fibrosis)
Heart disease (such as congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease)
Blood disorders (such as sickle cell disease)
Endocrine disorders (such as diabetes mellitus)
Kidney disorders
Liver disorders
Metabolic disorders (such as inherited metabolic disorders and mitochondrial disorders)
Weakened immune system due to disease or medication (such as people with HIV or AIDS, or cancer, or those on chronic steroids)
People younger than 19 years of age who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy
People who are morbidly obese (Body Mass Index, or BMI, of 40 or greater)
People who live with or care for others who are at high risk of developing serious complications (see list above).
Household contacts and caregivers of people with certain medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, and chronic lung disease.
Household contacts and caregivers of infants less than 6 months old.
Health care personnel.
What is influenza (also called flu)?
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year.
Signs and symptoms of flu
People who have the flu often feel some or all of these signs and symptoms:
Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
Cough
Sore throat
Runny or stuffy nose
Muscle or body aches
Headaches
Fatigue (very tired)
Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
*It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.
How flu spreads
Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or possibly their nose.
Period of contagiousness
You may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time.
How serious is the flu?
Flu is unpredictable and how severe it is can vary widely from one season to the next depending on many things, including:
what flu viruses are spreading,
how much flu vaccine is available
when vaccine is available
how many people get vaccinated, and
how well the flu vaccine is matched to flu viruses that are causing illness.
Certain people are at greater risk for serious complications if they get the flu. This includes older people, young children, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), and persons who live in facilities like nursing homes.
Flu seasons are unpredictable and can be severe. Over a period of 30 years, between 1976 and 2006, estimates of flu-associated deaths in the United States range from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people.
Complications of flu
Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.

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