Influenza (Flu)

The flu is more than just a bad cold. Influenza, also known as the flu, is a contagious and sometimes severe disease caused by viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. Influenza can cause anything from mild symptoms to severe illness that can result in hospitalization or death. 

  • The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year. The flu vaccine protects you and the people around you too. Get the vaccine at your health care provider’s office, or search for a flu vaccine provider near you.
  • You can also stop the spread of the flu by washing your hands often and well, covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and staying home when you’re sick.
  • Some people are at greater risk for complications from the flu:
    • People 65 and older.
    • Kids under 5, and especially kids under 2.
    • Pregnant women.
    • People with chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, and heart disease.
    • American Indian and Alaska Native people.


If you have the flu, you might have these symptoms:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills. (Not everyone with the flu will have a fever.)
  • Cough.
  • Sore throat.
  • Runny or stuffy nose.
  • Muscle or body aches.
  • Headaches.
  • Fatigue (tiredness).
  • Vomiting and diarrhea. (This is more common in children than adults.)

How It Spreads

The flu virus is spread mainly by tiny droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze, or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person can get influenza by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or even their eyes.


The best way to prevent influenza is to get vaccinated each year. Everyone 6 months and older needs a flu vaccine. Most insurance plans cover the cost of a flu vaccine. You can get the vaccine at your health care provider’s office or at a local pharmacy. Use the HealthMap Vaccine Finder to look for a provider near you.

You can also help stop the spread of the flu by:

  • Washing your hands frequently or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Staying home when you’re sick.


Most people get better from the flu on their own, but you can treat the flu with medicine if you get to the doctor early. Flu medications (also called antivirals) work best when you begin treatment within 48 hours from the time you get sick. Treatment can make symptoms milder and reduce the risk of other health complications and death. Talk to your health care provider about flu medications.

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