What is the flu?

Influenza, or the flu, is a contagious illness that affects the respiratory system, or the organs that help you breathe. This includes the lungs, nose and mouth. Contagious means the illness can be spread to other people when you sneeze, cough or touch shared surfaces, like doorknobs or keyboards.

How is the flu different from a cold?

The flu is different from a cold because the flu usually presents with a high fever. Cold symptoms often don’t include fever.

What are the symptoms of the flu?

  • Fever (100.4°F/38°C or higher) or chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headaches, muscle aches or body aches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)

Who is at risk of catching the flu?

Everyone can catch the flu, but there are certain people who have a higher risk than others, including:

  • Children age 5 and younger
  • Adults age 65 and older
  • Pregnant women
  • Postpartum women who have had a baby within the last 2 weeks
  • People with asthma, diabetes or kidney or liver problems also have a higher risk of developing complications from the flu

How can I protect myself and my family against the flu?

  • Have everyone in your family get a flu vaccine. Getting a flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and your family from the flu. Flu vaccines protect you and your family from 4 different types of flu. Everyone in your family who is 6 months of age or older should get a flu vaccine. If someone in your family is 65 or older, have him/her get a high-dose flu vaccine for extra protection. Visit your doctor’s office or ask your health insurance company where you can get a flu vaccine covered by your insurance.
  • Stay away from people who have the flu until they’re better.
  • Have supplies ready just in case someone in your family catches the flu. Supplies can include tissues, a digital thermometer, throat lozenges, hand sanitizer, antibacterial wipes and fever-reducing medications, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen.

Learn more about the flu

  • Seasonal flu information from Massachusetts General Hospital
  • “Be Prepared for Flu Season” by Peter T. Greenspan, MD, medical director of MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) and vice chair of Pediatrics at MGHfC.
Rev. 9/2015