Six Steps for Fighting the Flu

a woman blows her nose

When a person with the flu sneezes, the virus can spread up to six feet away.

Next week is National Influenza Vaccination Week. Now is the time to brush up on your flu knowledge so that you can protect yourself and your family.

Flu can be serious.

Even though they share some of the same symptoms, flu is no common cold. Each year within the U.S., hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized by flu and thousands die from it. Certain people are at a higher risk. These include young children, adults over 50 and people with chronic illness, such as diabetes, HIV, heart, kidney or lung disease.

The flu virus spreads easily.

When a person with the flu sneezes, coughs, talks or laughs, “droplets” of the flu virus can spread into the air and surfaces up to six feet away. The flu virus can live on these surfaces up to 48 hours, and can be transferred to your hands if you touch them. If you then touch your eyes, nose or mouth, you can become infected.

It can take a few days for symptoms to first appear. But people are contagious even before that happens, explains Troy Knighton, Program Manager, Clinical Public Health in VA’s Central Office. “The fact that it can be spread by people before they even know they have the virus makes it really important to be protected at the beginning of the flu season.”

You can help protect yourself.

VA suggests taking these six steps to prevent getting and spreading the flu.

  • Step 1: Get your flu shot.
  • Step 2: Know how flu is spread.
  • Step 3: Know the symptoms of flu.
  • Step 4: Keep your hands and surfaces around you clean.
  • Step 5: Cover your coughs and sneezes.
  • Step 6: Stay home when you are sick.

 It can be spread by people before they even know they have the virus. 

Flu shots are safe.

There is a misconception that flu shots can give you the flu. This is simply not true. Knighton believes this notion may come from people who have gotten the flu right after the flu shot, or know someone who has.

“It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to really stimulate your immune system enough so that you are protected from the flu,” says Knighton. “So if you get the flu right after your shot, you were going to get it anyway. You were probably already exposed to it and the vaccine hasn’t had time to protect you.”

The flu shot is also safe and encouraged for pregnant women. They also have a higher risk of flu complications. Millions of shots over many years have shown that vaccination is an effective way to protect mother and baby.

There’s even a new flu vaccine option for people with egg allergies.

Learn more.

The VA has a wealth of flu information and resources to help you stay healthy. Visit the Veterans Health Library or through My HealtheVet for video, illustrated education and more. Also go to for more details on the topics in this article.

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