The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness in all age groups. More serious flu infection can result in hospitalization or even death for high risk patients like the elderly, people with certain medical conditions and infants. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year.
You can’t predict the flu season and how severe or mild it will be from year to year. And, it’s not unusual for new flu viruses to appear each year.
Flu activity most commonly peaks in the U.S. in January or February. However, seasonal flu activity can begin as early as October and continue to occur as late as May.
The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older as the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease. While there are many different flu viruses, the seasonal flu vaccine is designed to protect against the top three or four flu viruses that research indicates will cause the most illness during the flu season. People should begin getting vaccinated soon after flu vaccine becomes available, ideally by October, to ensure that as many people as possible are protected before flu season begins.
Children between 6 months and 8 years of age may need two doses of flu vaccine to be fully protected from flu. Your child’s doctor can tell you whether two doses are recommended for your child. Those children who need two doses of vaccine should receive the first dose as soon as possible to allow time to get the second dose before the start of flu season. The two doses should be given at least 4 weeks apart.
Children younger than 6 months are at higher risk of serious flu complications, but are too young to get a flu vaccine. Because children younger than 6 months cannot get a vaccine, but are at high risk for serious flu-related complications, safeguarding them from flu is especially important. If you live with or care for an infant younger than 6 months of age, you should get a flu vaccine to help protect them from flu.
In addition to getting vaccinated, you and your loved ones can take everyday preventive steps like staying away from sick people and washing your hands to reduce the spread of germs. If you are sick with flu, stay home from work or school to prevent spreading influenza to others.