People often use the term "flu" to describe any kind of mild illness, such as a cold or a stomach virus that has symptoms like the flu. But the real flu is different. The flu is caused by influenza viruses A and B. Flu symptoms are usually worse than a cold and last longer. Most flu outbreaks happen in late fall and winter. You can help prevent the flu by getting the flu vaccine every year. It's best to get the vaccine as soon as it's available. You can get the vaccine as a shot or in a spray that you breathe in through your nose.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone age 6 months and up should get a flu vaccine. The vaccine is especially important for people who are at higher risk of problems from the flu, including:
- Children 6 months through 4 years of age
- Adults ages 50 and older
- Adults and children who have long-term health problems or an impaired immune system
- Women who will be pregnant during the flu season
The flu vaccine is also recommended for health care workers and anyone who lives or works with a person who is at higher risk of problems from the flu. Your doctor can help you decide if the flu vaccine is a good choice for you.
The vaccine usually prevents most cases of the flu. But even if you do get the flu after you've had the vaccine, your symptoms will be milder and you'll have less chance of problems from the flu. You cannot get the flu from the flu vaccine.