Fighting the Flu

Flu season is here. Find out how to avoid catching—and spreading—the illness.

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Over the next few months, you might notice more classmates than usual absent from school. It’s that time of year again: flu season.

Flu season in the United States usually lasts from October through March. Last flu season was one of the worst in recent years, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Millions of Americans caught the flu. In most cases, people were treated by doctors and got better in a couple of weeks. In very severe cases, people had to go to the hospital.  

Doctors don’t yet know how bad this year’s flu season will be. But they do know how the illness spreads—and what you can do to protect yourself.

Staying Healthy

The flu, short for influenza (in-floo-EN-zuh), is a virus. It is very contagious, easily spreading from one person to another.

But there are ways to prevent getting the flu. Doctors say the best defense is the flu vaccine. A vaccine is a shot that protects you against an illness. The flu vaccine contains a small amount of the flu virus. It causes your body to make antibodies, substances that help you fight off infection. Getting the shot doesn’t guarantee that you won’t get sick. But it can help.

“If you’ve had the flu vaccine, your body will get better much quicker than if you hadn’t had the flu vaccine at all,” says pediatrician Buddy Creech.

Creech and other experts have some more tips:

  • Tell a trusted adult if you don’t feel well. See a doctor if you have symptoms (see “Cold or Flu?”). 
  • Wash your hands or use hand sanitizer often. The flu virus can live on surfaces for hours. 
  • Cough into your elbow instead of your hand. This will prevent you from spreading germs when you touch things.
  • If you’re sick, drink a lot of fluids and get plenty of rest.    
  • Stay home if you don’t feel well. “Going to school with a fever or other signs really puts other people at risk,” says Creech.

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