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Flu Season

The Flu

Influenza, commonly known as the "flu," is an extremely contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Some people, such as older adults, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications. Flu season begins in October and continues into early spring.

How can I protect myself from the flu?

The best defense for the flu is to get a flu shot. Shots are available in pharmacies, private doctor’s offices, county health departments, public clinics, and more. Search to find a flu shot provider in your area. Most of these flu shots are covered by Medicaid, Medicare, or other insurance, and are available at no cost to you.

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What are the symptoms?

Flu symptoms include high fever, severe aches in muscles and joints, pain and tiredness around eyes, weakness or extreme tiredness, a headache, a sore through, and a runny nose. NOTE: All of these symptoms may not appear. 

How is the virus spread?

Flu viruses are spread from person-to-person when germs are transmitted through coughing, sneezing, or simply talking to someone with the flu. Flu viruses also may spread when people touch something with the flu virus on it and then touch their mouth, eyes, or nose.

People infected with the flu may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5-7 days after becoming sick. That means you may be able to spread the flu to someone else before you know you are sick. Young children, those who are severely ill, and those who have severely weakened immune systems may be able to infect others for longer than the 5-7 days.

What you can do to slow the spread of the flu:
  • Get a flu shot
  • Wash your hands
  • Always cover your mouth when you cough (cough into your sleeve/arm)
  • Stay home if you feel sick
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people

Information about treating the flu

Can the flu be treated?

Yes. There are prescription medications called "antiviral drugs" that can be used to treat the flu.

Should I still get a flu shot?

Yes. Antiviral drugs are a second line of defense to treat the flu if you get sick. A flu shot is still the first and best way to prevent the flu.

What are antiviral drugs?

Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines that fight against the flu in your body. Antiviral drugs are not sold over-the-counter. You can only get them if you have a prescription from your doctor or health care provider. Antiviral drugs are different from antibiotics, which fight against bacterial infections.

What are the benefits of antiviral drugs?

When used for treatment, antiviral drugs can lessen symptoms and shorten the time you are sick by 1 or 2 days. They also can prevent serious flu complications, like pneumonia. For people with a high risk medical condition, treatment with an antiviral drug can mean the difference between having a milder illness instead of very serious illness that could result in a hospital stay.

Can children take antiviral drugs? What about pregnant women?

Yes, they can both take antiviral drugs.

Who should take these antiviral drugs?

It’s very important that antiviral drugs are used early to treat hospitalized patients, people with severe flu illness, and people who are at higher risk for flu complications based on their age or medical conditions. Other people also may be treated with antiviral drugs by their doctor this season. Most otherwise-healthy people who get the flu, however, do not need to be treated with antiviral drugs.

More information

Learn more about the flu from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) website.

North Carolina's Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) also has a website with more flu information.

You can also call 919-733-3419 with any questions about the flu. The phone line is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

To find help in the NC 2-1-1 database, search by:

Adolescent/Adult Immunizations

Flu Vaccines

Need more information?

If you didn't find what you need on this page or need more information on local resources, dial 2-1-1 or 888-892-1162. Our call specialists are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 


Prepared by: NC 2-1-1/LP

Date Updated: December 21, 2017


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