Influenza, or the flu, is a contagious infection of the lungs, throat and nose caused by the influenza virus. The flu usually causes mild to severe illness. Some people, including older adults, young children, pregnant women, and people with certain health conditions, are at higher risk for serious flu complications.
In Arizona, flu season usually runs from October until May.
How is flu spread?
The flu virus is spread through small droplets sprayed while coughing, talking or sneezing. A healthy person can catch the virus from close contact with an infected person, especially if they are within 3 feet of the person for long periods. They can also get it after touching something with the virus on it (such as a hand, doorknob or a used tissue) and then touching their mouth, eyes or nose.
Symptoms start one to four days later (the average start time is two days). Since initial symptoms of the flu (influenza) and colds are similar, it can sometimes be difficult to tell if you have the flu or a very bad cold. Influenza, unlike a cold, is a serious illness that can have life-threatening complications.
The single best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated each year, but good health habits and antiviral medications are other measures that can help protect against the flu. Two kinds of flu vaccine are available in the United States:
The "flu shot" is an inactivated vaccine (containing killed virus) that is given with a needle, usually in the arm. The flu shot is approved for use in people older than 6 months, including healthy people and people with chronic medical conditions.
The nasal-spray flu vaccine is made with live, weakened flu viruses that do not cause the flu (sometimes called LAIV for “live attenuated influenza vaccine”). LAIV is approved for use in healthy people 5 years to 49 years of age who are not pregnant.
You should be vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available, but you can still get vaccinated in December and later. Flu season can begin as early as October and last into spring.
The following additional measures can help protect against the flu:
- Wash your hands.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
- Stay home when you are sick. If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
- Practice other good health habits. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.
Still, the single best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is to get vaccinated either by the flu nasal spray or injection. Flu vaccines are safe, effective and cannot cause the flu. There are many providers throughout the state offering vaccinations:
Call your primary care provider if you are looking for a particular vaccine. Ask him or her the following questions, and don't forget to ask if you are up-to-date on all your immunizations each time you have a yearly physical.
- Does your provider carry the vaccine?
- If not, can your provider order the vaccine?
- Can a script be written so you can pick it up at a pharmacy?
- Is the vaccine covered by insurance?
Community Health Centers accept most insurance and also offer the uninsured a sliding scale for services provided. Adults can receive immunizations and also general medical treatment.
Walk-in care clinics are often located in pharmacies or other retail locations and immunizations are available at most locations. We do suggest that you call prior to going. Many are open 7 days a week and accept insurance. Questions to consider are:
- Is your vaccine covered by insurance?
- Do they carry the vaccine you need?
Immunization clinics are held state-wide in various locations. Call or go to the website to locate a clinic near you. You can also walk in to their main site.
- Healthwaves Corporate Wellness or 480-968-1886
- Mollen Immunization Clinics or 480-214-2000
- Passport Health or 480-345-6800
- Concentra (Flagstaff, Tucson, and Maricopa County)
Your local pharmacy is able to administer vaccines, like the flu vaccine and Tdap (pertussis or whooping cough), to adults. Questions to consider are:
- Does your pharmacy give shots?
- How much does the vaccine cost?
- Does your insurance cover it?
- Does your insurance cover a vaccine administered at a pharmacy?
Most county health departments carry flu vaccine. Please contact your county health department for information on immunization clinic hours and fees.
- Apache County 928-333-2415
- Cochise County 520-803-3900
- Coconino County 928-522-7920
- Gila County 928-402-8811
- Graham County 928-428-1962
- Greenlee County 928-865-2601
- La Paz County 928-669-1100
- Maricopa County 877-764-2670
- Mohave County 928-753-0714
- Navajo County 928-532-6050
- Pima County 520-740-3925
- Pinal County 520-866-7289
- Santa Cruz County 520-281-1550
- Yavapai County 928-583-1000
- Yuma County 928-317-4559
It is very difficult to distinguish the flu from other infections on the basis of symptoms alone. A doctor's exam may be needed to tell whether you have developed the flu or a complication of the flu. There are tests that can determine if you have the flu as long you are tested within the first two or three days of illness.
If you develop flu-like symptoms and are concerned about your illness, especially if are at high risk for complications of the flu, you should consult your health-care provider. People at high risk for complications include people 65 years or older, people with chronic medical conditions, pregnant women, and young children.
When you have the flu
- Get plenty of rest, drink a lot of liquids and avoid using alcohol and tobacco. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
- If possible, stay home from work, school and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent spreading your illness to others. Call your doctor if your symptoms last a long time or get worse over time.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick. Remember to properly dispose of your used tissues.
- Wash your hands often to help minimize the spread of germs.
- You can take medications such as acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol®) to relieve the fever and muscle aches associated with the flu. Never give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms, particularly fever.