Influenza (Flu)

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Flu is a seasonal threat that can result in extended illness or hospitalization. Seasonal flu vaccination is the best way to protect adults and children from the flu and its complications.

Yearly flu shots are recommended by the CDC for everyone six months of age and older. Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses and prevent flu-related hospitalizations and death. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for full protection against the flu to take effect. Get your flu vaccine by the end of October for best protection.

Keeping Schools Healthy

February 8th, 2019

The Mississippi State Department of Health is reporting widespread influenza in the state. While not unexpected for this time of year, we are seeing the highest influenza activity reported so far this season. Additionally we have heard of schools being impacted by increased absences due to influenza. School-aged children are often a group with high rates of influenza infection; in Mississippi most of the reported flu-like illnesses are in individuals under 24 years of age. Even though we are in the middle of the flu season, it’s not too late to get vaccinated. Vaccination is the best way to decrease the risk of influenza infection and the best way to reduce the risk of complications from influenza.

Basic infection control in school settings should always be promoted and maintained, not only during flu season. For full details on influenza prevention in school settings, see the CDC Guidance for School Administrators to Help Reduce the Spread of Seasonal Influenza in K-12 Schools at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/school/guidance.htm. Below is a summary of activities schools can take to prevent the spread of influenza.

Key Points to Prevent the Spread of Flu in Schools

  • Encourage students, parents, and staff to get a yearly flu vaccine: Teach students, parents, and staff that the single best way to protect against the flu is to get vaccinated each flu season.
  • Stay home when sick: Students and staff with flu-like illness should stay home until fever free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medicines. They should stay home even if they are using antiviral drugs.
  • Separate ill students and staff: Students and staff who appear to have flu-like illness should be sent to a room separate from others until they can be sent home. The CDC recommends that they wear a surgical mask, if possible, and that those who care for ill students and staff wear protective gear such as a mask.
  • Hand hygiene: The CDC recommends that students and staff be encouraged to wash their hands often with soap and water, especially after coughing or sneezing.
  • Respiratory etiquette: The CDC recommends covering the nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing (or a shirt sleeve or elbow if no tissue is available) and throwing the tissue in the trash after use.
  • Routine cleaning: School staff should routinely clean areas that students and staff touch often with the cleaners they typically use. Special cleaning and disinfecting processes, including wiping down walls and ceilings, are not necessary or recommended. For guidance to slow the spread of flu in schools with cleaning and disinfecting, see http://www.cdc.gov/flu/pdf/freeresources/updated/cleaning_disinfecting_schools.pdf

Who we vaccinate for flu

MSDH county clinics offer pediatric flu vaccinations for children up to age 18. Certain high-risk adults who lack health insurance coverage or who are underinsured can also receive their flu shots at county health departments.

Who should get a flu shot

Yearly flu shots are recommended by the CDC for everyone six months of age and older. Those particularly at risk for influenza complications include young children, adults 65 and older, pregnant women, and those with a chronic illness.

Protection for children

It's especially important that children with underlying medical problems such as neuro-developmental or other disorders receive flu vaccination. During the 2017-2018 influenza season, three flu-related deaths of children under 18 years of age were reported in Mississippi. Further recommendations »

Where to find a flu shot

Check with your health care provider about this season's flu shot. County health departments provide flu shots to all children, and to qualifying adults who lack insurance coverage. Flu shots are also widely available at pharmacies and retail centers. Find one near you by entering your zip code in the Flu Shot Locator.


MSDH accepts private insurance, Medicaid, CHIP, and Vaccines for Children (VFC) coverage. Cost under the VFC program is $10.

Take 3: A three-part strategy to fight flu

1. Take time to get a flu vaccine each year

  • Flu vaccination not only can help prevent the spread of flu, but more importantly, it can save lives. In the 2017-2018 flu season, an estimated 80,000 adults nationwide died from the flu, as well as 180 children. Three of those children were Mississippians..
  • Each flu season brings new strains of flu that you need protection against. Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, and missed work and school due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations.
  • Flu vaccine is available as traditional injections, nasal spray, and high-dose versions for older people. Whichever one you choose, be sure that you get it soon enough for a full season of protection – preferably before the end of October.
  • Infants younger than six months of age aren't protected by flu vaccination. When you take steps to prevent to flu, you're helping protect them, too.

2. Take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. After using a tissue, throw it in the trash and wash your hands.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs.
  • If you are sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them. If you have flu symptoms, the CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.

3. Take antivirals to treat your flu if your doctor prescribes them

  • Antiviral drugs can make illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They may also prevent serious flu complications, especially if you take them as soon as possible after symptoms appear.
  • For those at high risk, antiviral drugs can mean the difference between having a milder illness or more a serious illness, hospitalization or death.
  • Antiviral drugs are only available by prescription.
  • Antiviral drugs can treat flu once you become ill, but they can't prevent flu. The flu vaccine has proven to be the best way to prevent the flu.

Prevent the Flu

Clean your hands

Clean hands prevent the spread of flu virus. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly to stay healthy.

One of the most common ways to catch the flu is by touching the eyes or nose with contaminated hands. Handwashing prevents the spread of other communicable diseases as well: hepatitis A, meningitis, and infectious diarrhea among others.

Effective handwashing:

  • Wet your hands and apply liquid or clean bar soap.
  • Rub your hands vigorously together and scrub thoroughly past your wrists.
  • Continue for 10-15 seconds — about the time it takes to read these instructions. Soap combined with scrubbing acts to remove germs.
  • Rinse well and dry your hands.
  • More about handwashing

Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth

The flu virus easily enters the body when you touch a contaminated surface and transfer the virus to the eyes, nose, or mouth.

Stay home when you are sick

You are more likely to catch the flu if you are already sick with a cold or other illness. If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick to keep yourself and others well.

If you are sick, continue to follow the handwashing guidelines above.

Cover your mouth and nose

Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing to prevent the spread of any illness to others.

Wash your hands after using a tissue.

Avoid close contact

Flu spreads easily: avoid close contact with those who are ill. If you are sick, avoid contact with others to keep them well.

More information

For more information on getting your flu vaccination, contact the health department in your county.

Read more about the flu and vaccinations at the CDC web site.

Protect Those at Risk

Children six months of age and older.

Children, especially those six months through four years old, are more vulnerable to flu and its complications. Vaccination for all children and adolescents through 18 years of age is recommended to help protect them.

The flu shot is not approved for use in children less than 6 months old.

Adults 50 and older.

People over the age of 50 are the largest group in the nation struck by serious or life-threatening cases of influenza. Flu also puts seniors at much greater risk for pneumonia. Pneumonia is a significant risk to the life and health of older adults, and hospitalizes more seniors each year than influenza.

If you are over 50, take steps to get your flu and pneumonia shots this season. The pneumonia vaccination won't prevent pneumonia, but it can greatly reduce the severity and deadliness of pneumonia.

Women who will be pregnant during the flu season.

Pregnancy can change the immune system in the mother, and affect the heart and lungs. This raises the risk of medical complications in pregnant women who get the flu, and makes hospitalization more likely. Early vaccination is especially important for expectant mothers who already have existing medical problems.

The chronically ill, regardless of age.

If you are an adult suffering from a chronic illness such as diabetes, or a condition like HIV that weakens your immune system, a flu shot is especially important.

Chronic illness greatly increases the risk of getting the flu, having it longer, and suffering from more serious medical problems as a result of it. People with diabetes are almost three times more likely to die from flu complications.

Early prevention is essential. Influenza spreads from November or earlier through April — getting your flu shot before then gives you the best chance of staying healthy.

Who should get a flu shot?

Everyone six months and older should get a flu shot. Flu shots are especially recommended for:

  • Adults 50 years and older
  • Children ages 6 months to four years, especially those under two years old
  • Women who will be pregnant during the influenza season
  • Residents of nursing homes or others in long-term care facilities
  • Caregivers and household contacts of children less than six months old.
  • Anyone with a compromised immune system due to HIV disease or medications such as chemotherapy
  • Children and adults with chronic medical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, or other health disorders
  • Healthy adults and children who live with or care for children under 5 years old or adults over 50 years old; or care for anyone with a medical condition that could put them at higher risk for flu complications
  • Healthcare workers involved in direct patient care
  • Adolescents and children over 6 months of age who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy
  • Out-of-home caregivers and household contacts of children aged less than 6 months, or adults over 50
  • Healthy adults and children who live with or care for anyone with a medical condition that could put them at higher risk for flu complications

Who should NOT get a flu shot?

A flu shot is not recommended if you:
  • Have a severe allergy to eggs
  • Have had a severe reaction to a flu shot in the past
  • Have had Guillain-Barré syndrome in the 6 weeks following a previous flu shot

Is it safe?

The influenza vaccine cannot cause the flu. Flu vaccine is made from killed influenza virus that cannot give you the flu. Almost all people who receive an influenza vaccination have no serious problems from it.

How long does it take for a flu shot to start offering protection?

It takes about two weeks to build the maximum level of antibodies needed to protect you from the influenza virus.

Can the flu cause other health complications?

The flu can make people more likely to develop bacterial pneumonia, especially when chronic medical conditions are present such as congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes. If you're in one of the groups at higher risk for pneumonia (people 50 and older, the very young, and people with special conditions such as heart or lung disease, diabetes, kidney failure, HIV and certain types of cancer), check with your doctor or health clinic about getting the PPV (pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine) when you get your regular flu shot. PPV will provide extra protection against pneumonia and other complications from the flu.

How can I tell a cold from the flu?

The flu's symptoms come on suddenly and can include a high fever and severe aches and pains. A cold, however, rarely causes a fever or severe aches and pains.

Symptoms Cold Flu
Fever Usually none High fever (102 - 104° F); lasts 3 to 4 days
Headache Usually none Headaches can be strong
General aches, pains Very little Often severe aches and pains
Fatigue, weakness Mild Fatigue for up to 3 weeks
Extreme exhaustion Never Exhaustion begins early and remains
Stuffy nose Nose usually stuffy Sometimes
Sneezing Sneezing is common Sometimes
Sore throat Throat is usually sore Sometimes
Chest discomfort, cough Sometimes Chest discomfort and coughing can be severe
Complications Sinus congestion or earache Bronchitis, pneumonia; can be life-threatening
Prevention None Annual vaccination or antiviral medicines; see your doctor
Treatment Only temporary relief of symptoms Antiviral medicines: see your doctor

What can I do if I get the flu?

  • If you develop the flu, it is advisable to get plenty of rest, drink a lot of liquids, and avoid using alcohol and tobacco. You can take medications to relieve the symptoms of flu (but never give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms, particularly fever, without first speaking to your doctor.)

    If your flu symptoms are unusually severe (for example, if you are having trouble breathing), you should consult your health-care provider right away.

    If you are at special risk from complications of flu, you should consult your health-care provider when your flu symptoms begin. This includes people 65 years or older, people with chronic medical conditions, pregnant women, or children. Your doctor may choose to use certain antiviral drugs to treat the flu.

  • The same medications that can be used to prevent flu infections can also help decrease the length of a flu episode by about one day. Contact your physician at the early onset of flu symptoms to see if you are an appropriate candidate to receive this treatment. For those in generally good health, plenty of bed rest and fluids can be highly beneficial to a speedy recovery.

Flu Facts

  • Influenza is a disease of the lungs only. Its main symptoms are fever, headache, extreme tiredness, coughing, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and muscle aches, but usually not stomach nausea. "Stomach flu" is not related to influenza, and is not affected by the flu vaccine.

  • Not every runny nose is the flu. The flu has many symptoms that the common cold does. It's not likely that you have the flu unless the symptoms are more severe than the usual cold or runny nose.

  • This year's vaccine offers the best protection. The current year's vaccine is carefully matched to the currently active form of the influenza virus. The vaccine is effective for only a few months, so vaccinations from past years will not help protect you from illness this flu season.

  • You can be vaccinated against pneumococcal virus at the same time you get your flu vaccination. This extra shot can protect you for five years or more from serious respiratory diseases caused by varieties of pneumococcal virus. Check with your doctor to see if this vaccination is right for you.

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Last reviewed on Mar 1, 2018

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Mississippi State Department of Health 570 East Woodrow Wilson Dr Jackson, MS 39216 866-HLTHY4U web@HealthyMS.com

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