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Protect Yourself from Seasonal Flu

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The Basics

Everyone age 6 months and older needs to get a flu shot (vaccine) every year. The seasonal flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and others from the flu.

For many people, the seasonal flu is a mild illness. But for some people, the flu can lead to:

  • Serious infections like pneumonia (“noo-MOHN-yah”)
  • Hospitalization
  • Death

The flu spreads easily from person to person. When you get the flu shot, you don’t just protect yourself – you also protect the people around you.

Am I at high risk for complications from the flu?
For some people, the flu is more likely to lead to serious illness. If you are at high risk from the flu, get a flu shot as early as you can each year. Groups at high risk from the flu include:

If you spend a lot of time with someone at high risk from the flu, you will help protect both of you by getting a flu shot.

When should I get the seasonal flu shot?
Most people get the flu shot in October or November, but you can get it as soon as the shot is available. You can still get the shot in December or later. Flu season can last until May.

Can I get the nasal (nose) spray instead of the shot?
The flu vaccine can be given in a nasal spray or a shot. You may get the nasal spray if you are:

  • Between ages 2 and 49
  • Healthy
  • Not pregnant

Are there any side effects from the seasonal flu vaccine?
Side effects from the flu shot and nasal spray are mild. Some people may feel tired or get a low fever for a day or so. Most people don’t have these side effects.

Flu shot
People who get the flu shot sometimes feel sore where they got the shot. You can’t get the flu from the flu shot. The flu shot is made from dead flu viruses that can’t cause the flu.

Flu nasal spray
People who get the nasal spray may have a stuffy nose, headache, or sore throat afterward. The nasal spray is made up of weakened flu viruses that can’t cause a severe flu.

What is the flu?
The flu is caused by a virus that infects your nose, throat, and lungs. It’s easily spread from person to person.

Symptoms of the flu include:

  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Tiredness
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle aches

Take Action!

You can get a flu shot at your doctor’s office or clinic. You may also be able to get a flu shot from your local health department, pharmacy, or employer.

Find a flu clinic near you.
Use this flu clinic locator External Links Disclaimer Logo to find out where you can get a flu shot near you.

What about cost?
The seasonal flu shot is covered under the Affordable Care Act, the health care reform law passed in 2010. Depending on your insurance plan, you may be able to get a flu shot at no cost to you.

Check with your insurance provider to find out what’s included in your plan. For information about other services covered by the Affordable Care Act, visit

Your flu shot is free if you have Medicare Part B.

Fight off the flu.
Here are some things you can do to keep from getting and spreading the flu:

  • Stay away from people who are sick.
  • If you are sick, stay home.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Drink lots of liquids (like water and fat-free or low-fat milk).
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Try not to touch your nose, mouth, or eyes.

Fight the flu and stay healthy with tips on eating healthy and getting active.

Start Today: Small Steps

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Content last updated on: August 22, 2012

National Health Information Center

P.O. Box 1133, Washington, DC 20013-1133