Little girl in bed with the fluEastern Idaho Public Health Department 

With the holidays quickly approaching, you don’t want your time with family and friends marred with being sick. Learn how to protect yourself and your family from the devastating effects of influenza.

Influenza, or more commonly called “the flu,” is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. The flu typically spreads quickly each fall and winter. It can vary in intensity from a very mild case in some individuals, to causing very severe illness in others. Complications from the flu can include hospitalizations and even death.

Certain groups of people are more susceptible to flu complications, such as young children, older adults and people with certain health conditions. Each year, approximately five percent to 20 percent of the U.S. population gets the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from complications, according to The Center for Disease Control and Prevention. At least 77 children died from the flu in the 2015-2016 season. It is estimated that the actual number is probably higher since many flu deaths are not reported.

The flu is spread from person to person and is very contagious. People with the flu can spread it to others up to about six feet away, mainly when they sneeze or cough in the air and the virus is then inhaled by people in close proximity. Less often, a person might also get the flu by touching a surface or an object that has the flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.

The flu usually comes on suddenly and people can experience the following symptoms: fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue (tiredness). Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea; however, this is mostly found in children. Most people who get influenza typically recover within a couple of weeks.

The best way to prevent the flu is by getting the flu vaccine every year. The CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend annual flu shots for everyone 6 months of age and older, including children and adolescents. Being immunized every year can significantly reduce the risk of being hospitalized due to the flu.

Flu vaccine can be administered in several ways including an injectable form or a “shot” or through a nasal spray. For the 2016-2017 flu season, it’s recommended that all people receive the shot and not the nasal spray. New research has shown that in past flu seasons, the flu shot provided significantly better protection compared to the nasal spray. Based on this research, flu mist will not be available to the public this flu season.

Other ways to prevent the flu for yourself and those around you:

  • Stay away from sick people and stay home if you are sick.
  • Cover your cough and properly dispose tissues.
  • Wash your hands frequently, and teach your children how to properly wash their hands. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Eastern Idaho Public Health has flu vaccine available. To schedule an appointment for your flu shot, please contact the following offices: Bonneville County (208-533-3235), Jefferson County (208-745-7297) and Madison County (208-356-3239). More great information can be found on our website at Fight the flu, it starts with you!