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.
Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body or muscle aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some also may experience vomiting, diarrhea, or respiratory symptoms without a fever.
In Arizona, flu season usually runs from October until May.
How does 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.
Although people with the flu are most contagious in the first 3-4 days after the illness begins, some otherwise healthy adults may be able to infect others starting one day before symptoms develop and up to 5-7 days after becoming sick.
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.
A flu vaccine protects against the viruses that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention research suggests will be most common. Vaccination is especially important for people at higher risk of getting the flu, including young children, pregnant women, those with chronic health conditions and people 65 years and older.
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.
Children younger than 6 months are at high risk of serious flu illness, but are too young to be vaccinated. People who care for infants should be vaccinated instead.
The following additional measures can help protect against the flu:
- Wash your hands.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs 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. 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.
- 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 considering vaccination. 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?
- 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
- Passport Health or 1-888-986-8868
- 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 928-679-7272
- Gila County 928-402-8811
- Graham County 928-428-1962
- Greenlee County 928-865-2601
- La Paz County 928-669-1100
- Maricopa County 602-506-6900
- Mohave County 928-753-0714
- Navajo County 928-532-6050
- Pima County 520-724-7797
- Pinal County 866-960-0633
- Santa Cruz County 520-375-7900
- Yavapai County 928-583-1000
- Yuma County 928-317-4559
To locate a flu shot clinic near you, visit:
- 2-1-1 Arizona
- Stop the Spread AZ
- Or call 211 within Arizona or toll free 1-877-211-8661 from anywhere
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 you are at a high risk for complications, you should consult your health-care provider. People at high risk for complications include people 65 years or older, people with chronic medical conditions (asthma, chronic lung disease, heart disease, kidney or liver disorders, etc.), pregnant women, and young children.
- 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.
If your doctor prescribes them, antiviral drugs can be used to treat your illness. Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best for treatment when they are started within two days of getting sick. Contact your doctor right away if you think you have the flu. Follow your doctor’s instructions for taking these drugs.