September through May is the typical season for becoming infected with the flu or influenza virus.
Most of us know a little about it, but we all should be aware of certain facts, such as how we get the flu, how its spread, and how we can prevent it.
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness that causes symptoms such as sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, coughing, fever, muscle aching, fatigue and sometimes, especially in young children, vomiting and diarrhea.
The flu is typically caused by airborne droplets that are dispersed from an infected individual by coughing, sneezing or just talking near other people.
While not as common a transmission route, just touching an object that is infected with the virus and then touching your own mouth, eye or nose can infect your body.
Even shaking hands with someone who has coughed or sneezed into their own hand can pose a risk. While everybody is at risk, the elderly, young children and those with certain medical conditions are moreso.
The contagious period, or when the virus is active in spreading from one individual to another, is from one day before symptoms occur, to up to seven days after becoming ill.
There are a number of possible residual complications of flu, including bacterial pneumonia, ear and sinus infections, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, diabetes and asthma.
Frequent hand-washing is a big help in preventing any type of infection.
The overall best prevention is to be vaccinated. Vaccines usually become available sometime in early to mid-September, which is a good time to be vaccinated, up to May, as the virus is usually still considered a threat into May.
There are three types of flu shots available. The regular seasonal is the intramuscular (injected into the muscle), typically used for people as young as 6 months.
The high-dose vaccine first became available in the 2010-11 flu season and is given to those 65 and older. The intra-dermal (injected into the skin) first became available in the 2011-12 season and is used for 18- to 64-year-olds.
There is also a nasal-spray vaccine available for people 2 to 49 years old.
The vaccines begin to do their work two weeks after vaccination by developing antibodies within that protect against flu infection.
The vaccine protects against the three most likely infectious viruses as determined by scientific research. These are Influenza A (H1N1) virus, Influenza A (H3N2) virus and Influenza B virus.
While most viral flu infections will be caused by one of these three, the vaccine cannot protect against flu-like illnesses caused by non-influenza viruses.
This accounts for some people who believe they got the flu because they took the flu shot.
While the vaccination is considered safe, there are some people who should not be vaccinated due to allergy to eggs or certain medical conditions.
Your pharmacist or health care provider can always answer your concerns or questions about taking the flu shot.