General Information about Seasonal Flu

The Hawaii State Department of Health reminds everyone that they can call 2-1-1 for H1N1 and seasonal flu information. The toll-free information and referral service is available statewide, Monday through Friday from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.

What is Influenza (also called the “flu”)?

Influenza, commonly called the “flu,” is caused by the influenza virus, which infects the respiratory tract (nose, throat, lungs). Unlike many other viral respiratory infections, such as the common cold, the flu can cause a more severe illness and possibly life-threatening complications.

Recognizing the signs of flu in people

You may have the flu if you have some or all of these symptoms:

  • fever
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • body aches
  • headache
  • chills
  • fatigue
  • possibly vomiting or diarrhea (more likely in children)

What you can do to stay healthy:

Influenza is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person through coughing or sneezing of infected people. You can take everyday actions to stay healthy:

  • Get vaccinated
  • Cover your cough or sneeze
  • Wash your hands often
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Stay home if you are sick

Special Populations at Increased Risk

You may be at risk for serious complications from the flu if you:

  • Are 65 years or older, or 23 months and younger
  • Have chronic medical conditions
  • Are taking long-term immune suppressive therapy
  • Are pregnant

Some complications of flu include bacterial pneumonia, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes. Children may develop sinus problems and ear infections.

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Information for High-Risk Populations

  • Adults with HIV Infection
  • Asthma Information for Patients and Parents of Patients
  • Persons with Cardiovascular Disease
  • Persons with Diabetes
  • Persons with Disabilities and their Caregivers or Personal Assistants
  • Pregnant and Breastfeeding Women
  • Resources for Clinicians
  • Resources for Deaf and Hard of Hearing Persons
  • Resources for Laboratories
  • Resources for Parents and Caregivers
  • Resources for Pregnant Women
  • Shot or Spray… they are both OK… for health care providers!
  • Travelers and Travel Industry

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How do I know if I have the flu?

Tests are available that can determine if you have the flu as long as you are tested within the first two or three days after your symptoms begin. In addition, a doctor’s examination may be needed to determine whether a person has another infection that is a complication of the flu.

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What should I do if I get sick?

If you develop the flu, you should do the following:

  • Get plenty of rest
  • Drink a lot of liquids
  • Avoid using alcohol and tobacco
  • You can take over the counter medications to relieve the symptoms of flu (but never give aspirin to children or teenagers who have flu-like symptoms and particularly fever without first speaking to your doctor).
  • If your symptoms are unusually severe (for example, if you are having trouble breathing), contact your physician immediately or go to the nearest healthcare facility.

Note: Influenza is caused by a virus, so antibiotics (like penicillin) won’t work. However, if started within 48 hours of the onset of your symptoms, an antiviral, such as oseltamivir, may decrease the symptoms and/or decrease the length of the illness. You should consult your doctor to determine whether such treatment is appropriate for you.

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Are there certain times of the year when I am more likely to get the flu?

The flu generally occurs during the winter months. Countries in the northern hemisphere, including the United States, tend to see more flu between the months of October and May. The flu season officially begins on October 1st of each year, and continues through mid-May of the following year. Although Hawaii experiences a flu season, we tend to see flu year round because of our tropical climates and tourist populations.

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How can I avoid getting the flu?

Vaccination is your best protection against the flu. There are two types of flu vaccines:

  • The “flu shot” – an inactivated vaccine (containing killed virus) that is given with a needle. The flu shot is approved for use in people 6 months of age and older, including healthy people, people with chronic medical conditions and pregnant women.
  • The nasal spray flu vaccine – a vaccine made with live, weakened flu viruses that do not cause the flu. The nasal-spray flu vaccine is approved for use in healthy people 2-49 years of age who are not pregnant.

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Who should get vaccinated?

An annual flu vaccination is recommended for everyone 6 months and older.   Some people should not be vaccinated without first consulting a physician. They include:

  • People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs.
  • People who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination in the past.
  • People who developed Guillian-Barre syndrome (GBS) within 6 weeks of getting an influenza vaccine previously.
  • Children younger than 6 months of age (influenza vaccine is not approved for use in this age group).
  • People who have a moderate or severe illness with a fever should wait to get vaccinated until their symptoms lessen.

Talk to your doctor if you have questions about whether you should get a flu vaccine.

Where can I get vaccinated?

Call your doctor or visit a flu immunization clinic. For a list of flu immunization clinics statewide, click here or call 2-1-1.

When should I get vaccinated?

You should get vaccinated as soon as the flu vaccine becomes available. Vaccination before December is recommended to provide protection before flu activity is typically at its highest. Vaccination in December or later is also beneficial because although influenza disease usually peaks in January or February most years, disease can occur as late as May

Does the flu vaccine work?

YES. The flu vaccine can prevent 70 to 90 percent of people who receive it from developing moderate-to-severe flu infections

Does the flu vaccine work right away?

No. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against influenza virus infection. In the meantime, you are still at risk for getting the flu. That’s why it’s important to get vaccinated as soon as the flu vaccine becomes available and before the flu season really gets under way.

Why do I need to get vaccinated against the flu every year?

The flu vaccine gets updated every year. Flu viruses change from year to year so each year’s flu vaccine is made specifically to protect you from flu virus strains circulating that year. The immunity that you develop from previous year’s flu vaccines do not protect you from new flu strains, making it important to get vaccinated against flu every year.

Could I still get the flu after being vaccinated?

It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop and provide full protection against flu. In the meantime, you are still at risk for getting the flu. Also, the flu vaccine will not protect against flu virus strains not in the flu vaccine or other viruses that cause symptoms similar to the flu.

Last year I received two flu vaccines, a seasonal flu vaccine and a 2009 H1N1 flu vaccine. Do I need to get two flu vaccines again this year?

No. This year’s seasonal flu vaccine will contain a 2009 H1N1-like component, so you will only need to receive one flu vaccine.

Where do I go for more information?

For more information on the flu, visit the CDC’s web site.

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