In the United States, flu season occurs in the fall and winter. While influenza (flu) viruses circulate year-round, most of the time flu activity peaks between December and February, but activity can last as late as May.
Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. For some people, flu is a mild illness that leads to missed time from family, work and school. For others, it can lead to hospitalization and even death.
Every year in the United States, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications and tens of thousands die, including young children.
The best way to prevent flu is by getting a flu vaccination (flu shot) every year. The CDC recommends that everyone over 6 months of age get a flu shot.
Influenza (Flu) and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by infection with a new coronavirus (called SARS-CoV-2) and flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses→. Because some of the symptoms of flu and COVID-19 are similar, it may be hard to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone, and testing may be needed to help confirm a diagnosis. Flu and COVID-19 share many characteristics, but there are some key differences between the two.
While more is learned every day, there is still a lot that is unknown about COVID-19 and the virus that causes it. This table→ compares COVID-19 and flu, given the best available information to date.
CDC believes it’s likely that flu viruses and the virus that causes COVID-19 will both be spreading. In this context, getting a flu vaccine will be more important than ever.
Flu symptoms can last anywhere from 5 to 10 days, and include some or all of the following:
Though the flu can make people feel pretty lousy, the vast majority of otherwise healthy people will recover from the flu at home with self-care:
Should I see a doctor?
Use this Decision Chart to help decide when to seek medical care:
Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person by coughing, sneezing, talking or singing. Sometimes people can become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose. Getting vaccinated, covering coughs and sneezes, and handwashing are good preventative measures.
Anyone, even healthy people can get the flu. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated. The CDC recommends flu shots for everyone 6 months of age and older.
The following groups of people are more likely to experience serious complications from the flu that can lead to hospitalization or even death. If you have one of these conditions it is especially important to get vaccinated against the flu:
Going back to school is a lot different this year, but one thing hasn’t changed: keeping your child or teenager up-to-date on their yearly visit to the doctor is one of the best ways you can make sure they’re healthy, safe and ready to learn.
Your child may have missed a doctor’s visit or fallen behind on vaccinations during COVID-19 — but that’s okay! Doctors’ offices and clinics are open, safe, and ready to help your family catch up.
Vaccines are important. They protect babies, kids and entire communities from harmful diseases. And with flu season around the corner, this year it’s more important than ever to make sure your whole family gets the flu vaccine.
Vaccine schedules list the age when each vaccine is recommended. They are developed by doctors and disease experts, and provide the most protection from diseases while keeping the timing of vaccines safe.
Children should be vaccinated every flu season for the best protection against flu. For most children, it is good practice to get them vaccinated by the end of October. However, getting vaccinated later can still be protective, as long as flu viruses are circulating. While seasonal flu outbreaks can happen as early as October, during most seasons flu activity peaks between December and February. Since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for the body to develop antibodies against flu virus infection, it is best that people get vaccinated so they are protected before influenza begins spreading in their community. Some children will need two doses of flu vaccine. Those children should get the first dose as early in the season as possible.
Your doctor or clinic is trained to work with you on a vaccine plan that will protect your child from harmful diseases. If you don't know which vaccines your child needs or you want more information, talking to your doctor can help.
Influenza vaccines have a very good safety track record. Over the years, Americans have received hundreds of millions of doses of seasonal flu vaccine. The discomfort and possible serious complications from flu are far greater than any risks that come from the vaccine. More about vaccine safety.
To help reduce your risk of getting and spreading the flu, use these everyday disease prevention practices:
People who smoke get the flu more easily and get sicker from the virus. This is also true of people who breathe secondhand smoke, especially children and senior citizens. Contact the Oregon Tobacco Quit Line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW.
More ways to protect yourself and your family (CDC resources):