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What's it like: To get the flu

Jaclyn Cosgrove: Oklahoma's flu season generally runs from mid-November to May, with the number of people catching the flu peaking in January or February.
by Jaclyn Cosgrove Published: December 1, 2013

What are the usual symptoms of the flu?

Influenza, commonly referred to as “the flu,” is a contagious respiratory illness that can be mild to severe. It is caused by influenza viruses.

Once you contract the flu, the symptoms typically present themselves fairly quickly. You could go from feeling fine in the morning to terrible that evening. You might start out with a fever and then develop chills, a sore throat, a runny nose and body aches.

Once you have the flu, you might suffer from a fever, cough and extreme fatigue.

It's important to stay at home, if possible. You are contagious up to a day before symptoms start and until about 24 hours after your fever stops.

How does someone catch the flu?

Experts think most people catch the flu when they come into contact with respiratory droplets from an infected person. When a person who has the flu talks or coughs, for example, they can spread these droplets. If the droplets come into contact with your eyes, nose or face, you can contract the flu.

It's less common, but you might also catch the flu from touching a surface that has the flu virus on it and then touching your mouth or nose.

Why do people have to get a flu shot each year?

Flu viruses have the ability to change and mutate. The term “antigenic drift” refers to these changes happening slowly over time. These changes happen often enough with the flu virus that your immune system can't recognize it from year to year.

This means that, unlike other infectious diseases, a new shot is needed each year to keep up with the changes in the flu viruses.

What are the risk factors of the flu shot?

A common misconception is that you can contract the flu from the flu shot. You can't. Flu vaccines are made either with “inactivated” viruses, meaning they aren't infectious, or with proteins from the flu virus. The nasal spray flu vaccine does contain live viruses, but the viruses have been weakened to the point they don't cause illness.

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by Jaclyn Cosgrove
Medical and Health Reporter
Jaclyn Cosgrove writes about health, public policy and medicine in Oklahoma, among other topics. She is an Oklahoma State University graduate. Jaclyn grew up in the southeast region of the state and enjoys writing about rural Oklahoma. She is...
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