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Flu

Get Set for a Healthy Winter

Here, experts from the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) share tips on how you can get through the cold-weather season while doing what you need to avoid colds and flu.

Although contagious viruses are active year-round, we’re most vulnerable to them in fall and winter. That’s because, in large part, we spend more time indoors with other people when the weather gets cold.

Fortunately, you can fight back with several FDA-approved medicines and vaccines.

Colds and Flu

Most respiratory bugs come and go within a few days, with no lasting effects. But some cause serious health problems. People who use tobacco or who are exposed to secondhand smoke are more prone to respiratory illnesses and more severe complications than nonsmokers.

Colds usually cause a stuffy or runny nose and sneezing. Other symptoms include coughing, a scratchy throat, and watery eyes. There is no vaccine against colds, which come on gradually and often spread through contact with infected mucus.

Flu comes on suddenly and lasts longer than colds. Flu symptoms include fever, headache, chills, dry cough, body aches, fatigue, and general misery. Like colds, flu can cause a stuffy or runny nose, sneezing, and watery eyes. Young children may also experience nausea and vomiting with flu. Flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. You also can get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it.

Flu season in the United States may begin as early as October and can last as late as May, and generally peaks between December and February. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

ore than 200,000 people in the United States are hospitalized from flu-related complications each year, including 20,000 children younger than age 5.

Between 1976 and 2006, the estimated number of flu-related deaths every year ranged from about 3,000 to about 49,000.

In the 2014-15 season, there were about 40 million flu-associated illnesses, 19 million flu-associated medical visits, and 970,000 flu-associated hospitalizations—the highest estimate for a single flu season.

Prevention Tips

Get vaccinated against flu.

With rare exceptions, everyone ages 6 months and older should be vaccinated against flu. Flu vaccination, available as a shot or a nasal spray, can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits, missed work and school, and prevent flu-related hospitalizations and deaths.

It’s ideal to be vaccinated by October, although vaccination into January and beyond can still offer protection. Annual vaccination is needed because flu viruses are constantly changing, flu vaccines may need to be updated, and because a person’s immune protection from the vaccine declines over time. Annual vaccination is especially important for people at high risk for developing serious complications from flu. These people include:

Children younger than 5 years, but especially those younger than 2.

Pregnant women.

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