Flu: FAQ

 

Transmission

When are people with the flu contagious?

A person with the flu is contagious from the day before symptoms start until approximately five to seven days after symptoms begin.

How is the flu virus spread?

The flu virus typically spreads through the air by coughs or sneezes. Learn what you can do to help prevent the spread of the flu.

Can I get the flu more than once during the flu season?

Yes, you can, but it would be a different strain or type of the influenza virus. There are four strains of flu that circulate each year. If you get sick from one strain, it doesn’t protect you from other strains. The flu shot usually covers three or four of the strains depending on the vaccine.

How can I know whether I have the flu or a common cold?

Learn the difference with signs and symptoms of influenza vs. the common cold (PDF).

Flu vaccines

When should I get the flu shot?

Get your yearly flu shot as soon as it’s is available.

When is it too late to get the flu shot?

In Minnesota, flu season often extends into May, so you can continue to get your shot into the spring if you didn’t get it during the fall or winter months.

Do I need two flu shots this season?

Some children 6 months through 8 years of age require two doses of influenza vaccine. Children 6 months through 8 years getting vaccinated for the first time, and those who have only previously gotten one dose of vaccine, should get two doses of vaccine this season. Those doses must be at least four weeks apart. The first dose primes the immune system; the second dose provides protection. Children who need two doses but only get one dose can have reduced or no protection from a single flu shot.

If I get the flu shot early, in August or September for example, will it last through the flu season?

Yes. Protection lasts through the flu season. It’s a good idea to get your flu shot as early as possible so you can be protected right away. Remember, it takes about two weeks for your body to develop immunity from the vaccine.

How should I prepare for getting my flu shot?

Always wear short sleeves or a loose-fitting shirt so sleeves can easily be rolled up to the shoulder. Bring your insurance card (if applicable) and expect to fill out forms that ask you about medical history such as allergies, etc.

Is it true that there’s a different flu shot for people 65 and older?

Yes. Fluzone High-Dose is a flu vaccine designed specifically for people 65 and older. It contains four times the amount of antigen as the regular flu shot. Antigen is the part of the vaccine that prompts the body to make antibodies. Studies show that the high-dose flu shot was 24 percent more effective in preventing flu in adults 65 years and older. If you have questions about the best shot for you, please talk with your doctor.

I heard the nasal flu vaccine (FluMist) won’t be available this year. Can you tell me more?

The CDC has recommended against using FluMist during the 2016-17 influenza season. This decision was based on data from the last three flu seasons. The data showed that FluMist was not as effective as the flu shot. HealthPartners and Park Nicollet are following CDC’s recommendations and will not be offering FluMist this season.

Reactions to the flu shot

Will I get the flu from a flu shot?

No, this is a common myth. The flu virus in the flu shot is dead. This means you can’t get the flu from it. The virus tricks the immune system into making the antibodies we need to protect us from the flu. Some people may feel a little “fluish” after getting the vaccine. This is your immune system doing its job. What you are feeling is your body making antibodies. It could also be a completely unrelated cold virus since flu season happens the same time of year as other respiratory illnesses happen.

Can I have allergic reactions to a flu shot?

Life-threatening allergic reactions to flu shots are rare – about 1 in 1 million doses. Most allergic reactions happen within minutes or a few hours of receiving the flu shot. Check with your doctor to make sure a flu shot is safe for you.

Access to flu shots

Will everyone be able to get the flu shot this season?

There will be plenty of flu shots available, and everyone, even healthy adults, is encouraged to get a flu shot.

Flu treatments

How can I treat the flu at home?

Flu treatment is the same for most people. For those who are not at high risk of flu complications, the treatments below are recommended and there is no need to call your doctor. However, those who are at risk may require special treatment. See the flu complications section of our FAQ page for when to seek medical help.

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Drink lots of fluids such as water
  • Take acetaminophen/Tylenol® or ibuprofen/Advil® to lower your temperature. Warning: Do not give aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) to children or teenagers who have the flu

Are antibiotics effective against the flu?

No. Antibiotics are effective against bacterial infections. Influenza and most cases of acute bronchitis (another name for a “chest cold”) are caused by viruses. Doctors will sometimes treat the flu and bronchitis with antiviral medications. But antibiotics can’t treat these conditions, prevent their spread or ease their symptoms. It’s important to use antibiotics only when they’re necessary, because bacteria can develop resistance to antibiotics over time. You can help keep antibiotics effective by not taking them to treat the flu, bronchitis or other viral infections.

Are there medicines that can treat the flu?

Yes, medicines called “antivirals” treat the flu. Examples are Tamiflu® and Relenza®. These drugs fight against the flu by keeping flu viruses from reproducing in the body. If you get sick, antiviral drugs can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. These medicines work best when started within 48 hours after you start having symptoms. They may also prevent serious flu complications.

Will everyone need to get antiviral medicines?

No. Certain strains of influenza may be resistant to these medications while other strains may not. Therefore, this will need to be determined by your doctor.

Flu complications

When should I seek medical help? Are there danger signs I should watch for?

Children

Seek urgent medical attention if your child has any of these danger signs:

  • Fast breathing or difficulty breathing
  • Bluish or gray skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluid
  • Severe vomiting or vomiting that continues awhile
  • Not waking up or not interacting (being listless)
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough. This could be a sign of pneumonia.
  • Fever with a rash

In addition to the signs above, get medical help right away for any infant who has any of these signs:

  • Being unable to eat
  • Has trouble breathing
  • Has no tears when crying
  • Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal

Adults

Seek urgent medical attention if you have any of these danger signs:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • New or sudden confusion
  • Severe vomiting or vomiting that continues awhile
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough. This could be a sign of pneumonia.
  • Additional information

    Information about the flu is being updated all the time. Please continue to check back on this site, or visit any of the following web pages that have important up-to-date information: