The flu season typically hits from October to April. In 2009, a new flu virus called H1N1 spread around the world, causing the first flu pandemic in more than 40 years.

The flu can cause mild to severe illness and sometimes lead to death. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) urges that most people 6 months and older get a flu vaccine every year beginning with the 2010-2011 flu season.

Exceptions include people who had a severe reaction to the vaccine previously, people with a severe allergy to chicken eggs, people who have Guillian-Barre syndrome as a result of the flu vaccine, and people with a moderate to severe illness and fever.

How it spreads

A virus causes the flu and spreads from one person to another from coughs and sneezes and from hand-to-hand contact, such as shaking hands. Stress may increase your risk of getting the flu. Protect yourself and others by:

  • Covering your nose and mouth when you cough or sneeze
  • Avoiding close contact with sick people
  • Staying home at least 24 hours after your fever is gone
  • Washing your hands frequently and not touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
  • Eating healthy, well-balanced meals
  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Drinking at least eight glasses of fluids a day

Risk factors

You are at high risk if you are:

  • 65 years or older
  • A pregnant woman
  • A person with medical a condition such as heart disease, diabetes, or a chronic pulmonary or respiratory health condition
  • A child younger than five
  • A person who lives in a nursing home
  • A person who lives with or cares for someone who is at high risk


There are two types of vaccines: the flu shot and the flu nasal spray. The main difference between the two is that the flu shot contains a killed virus and the nasal spray contains a live, weakened virus.

The flu vaccine can be 70% to 90% effective in healthy adults when they match the strain, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But, because there are many strains, the flu vaccine you got last year won't protect you again this year.

Get vaccinated and make sure anyone at risk in your family gets a flu shot too. Prevention is always the best medicine.

Flu vaccine myth

Some people worry that a flu vaccine will give them the flu. This is a common myth.

In most people flu shots cause no side effects. Two-thirds of those vaccinated have no soreness. Very few experience even mild symptoms. Children who have not been exposed to the influenza virus in the past are more likely to have mild side effects.


Often it is hard to tell the difference between a cold and flu. In general, flu symptoms are more severe and can result in serious health problems such as pneumonia or bacterial infections.

Typical symptoms include fever (usually 100°F to 103°F in adults and often higher in children) and respiratory symptoms, such as cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, as well as headache, muscle aches, and extreme fatigue.

Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can sometimes accompany the flu, especially in children.

Talk to your doctor if your symptoms persist. Be sure to tell him or her if you have a respiratory ailment that puts you or your family at higher risk.

Getting the vaccine

Call your doctor or, if you don’t have insurance, the county health department (Contra Costa County (925) 313-6469) if you need help getting vaccinated.

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