UW News

September 28, 2011

Know the facts about the flu: Stay healthy this flu season

UW Health Sciences/UW Medicine

UW doctors debunk flu myths

Flu season updates from Public Health Seattle-King County

Centers for Disease Control flu information

Dr. Gary Mann, UW Medicine and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance surgeon, gets a flu shot from UWMC employee health nurse Mary Dessel. Dr. Rebecca Petersen, UW Medicine general surgeon, is next in line.

Dr. Gary Mann, UW Medicine and Seattle Cancer Care Alliance surgeon, gets a flu shot from UWMC employee health nurse Mary Dessel. Dr. Rebecca Petersen, UW Medicine general surgeon, is next in line.Leila Gray

Influenza can be very serious for small children, older adults and anyone whose health is not good. In the early stages of influenza, many people dont realize they are infected. They may not even feel sick. Without knowing it, they can expose all of us to the illness. That is why it is so important to know the facts about the flu and learn ways to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Two UW Medicine experts, Dr. Timothy Dellit, medical director, Infection Control, Harborview Medical Center, and Dr. Estella Whimbey, medical director, Infection Control and Employee Health, UW Medical Center,  answer common flu questions and share tips to help us all stay healthy this flu season.

What is influenza?
Influenza is a contagious respiratory disease that can cause cough, fever, headache, tiredness, muscle aches, chills, sore throat and runny nose. Some people, especially children, may experience stomach symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.

The flu virus is usually spread by coughing and sneezing. You can also get the disease by touching objects, such as door knobs, with flu virus on it and then touching your mouth or nose.

Whats the best way to prevent getting the flu?
The most important action to protect yourself and your loved ones from the flu is to be vaccinated.  Influenza vaccines are 70 to 90 percent effective in preventing influenza for most adults when there is a good match between the vaccine and the circulating influenza virus.

This years single-dose flu shot covers both the seasonal influenza and 2009 H1N1 virus. It will protect you against the flu viruses considered most likely to occur this fall and winter and is recommended for all people 6 months of age and older.

A model of a flu virus shows its various components.

A model of a flu virus shows its various components.CDC

What types of flu vaccines are there?
Influenza vaccines are either injected in the arm (the traditional “flu shot”) or given as a nasal spray. The injectable vaccine is made from killed virus and cannot give you the flu.  The nasal vaccine does contain live attenuated (weakened) virus that may cause mild symptoms such as runny nose, nasal congestion, or sore throat. The nasal vaccine should only be given to healthy people 2 through 49 years of age and should not be given to pregnant women or people with certain underlying pulmonary or immunologic medical conditions.

Are there medical reasons for not getting the flu vaccine?
The influenza vaccination is considered very safe. This year, the CDC has even updated its recommendations to include vaccinating individuals with mild to moderate egg allergies, as new evidence shows that doing so is safe. As a result, there are very few medical reasons not to be vaccinated. People who believe they got influenza after receiving the vaccine were most likely exposed to another respiratory virus or to influenza virus before the vaccination could start working to protect them.

Should I go to the doctor to treat my flu symptoms?
Medical care is generally not needed for mild flu cases. Stay home to avoid spreading the virus to others and wait at least 24 hours after your fever is gone (without the use of fever-reducing medicine) before returning to work.

Consult your healthcare provider promptly or seek medical care if you experience the following flu-like symptoms:

  • Fever for three days or more with no explanation
  • Rapidly worsening illness
  • Unresponsive and unable to get out of bed
  • Bad sore throat
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Severe cough
  • Chest pain


It makes sense to plan ahead for work absences. Find out about sick leave policies and whether it is possible to work from home. You may also want to talk to family, friends and neighbors about arranging back-up care if your child becomes sick or if classes are canceled.

What other steps can I take to prevent getting the flu?

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, or sneeze into your sleeve.
  • Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer, especially after you cough or sneeze.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Take care of your general health. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

Finally, because flu seasons are unpredictable, be alert to new developments and changes in public health recommendations. For up-to-date local information, visit the Public Health – Seattle & King County website: www.kingcounty.gov/healthservices/health/communicable/immunization/fluseason.aspx.