Flu Basics

What is influenza (also called the "flu")?

Influenza is commonly called the "flu." Influenza is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by a virus that infects the nose, throat and lungs. It can cause moderate to severe illness. It is not what people sometimes refer to as the “stomach flu” where there is primarily vomiting and diarrhea. That is a gastrointestinal virus, not respiratory.

When does flu occur?

Flu occurs in the United States most often in the fall and winter. In Spokane County, the virus commonly peaks in January through mid-March.

What are the symptoms of flu? People with flu often have a sudden onset of:

  • Fever
  • Cough, which can be severe
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body aches
  • Extreme fatigue (tiredness)
  • Headache, which can be severe
  • Some people may have vomiting or diarrhea – this is more common in children than in adults

If you or someone you know has these symptoms and they are severe, contact your doctor, nurse or clinic as soon as possible. The best way to tell if you have flu is for a healthcare provider to swab your throat and have a lab confirm the diagnosis. 

How does flu spread?

The flu spreads easily from person to person by coughing and sneezing and can spread to others before a person knows they're sick. Adults can infect others one day before symptoms develop and up to five days after becoming sick. Kids can spread the virus for 10 or more days.

Does past infection with flu make a person immune?

No, because there are many viruses that cause flu and they change from year to year. People who have had the flu or a flu shot in previous years may become infected with a new strain.

How do you prevent the flu?

The best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu shot each year. Using good health habits can also help stop the spread of flu: washing your hands, covering your cough, and staying home when you're sick.

How serious is the flu?

The flu is unpredictable and can be severe, especially for older people, young kids, pregnant women, and people with certain health conditions. These groups are at greater risk for serious complications if they get the flu, including:

  • Bacterial pneumonia
  • Ear infections
  • Sinus infections
  • Dehydration
  • Worsening of chronic medical conditions (asthma, congestive heart failure, or diabetes)
  • Death

About Flu Vaccine

There are several  flu vaccine options for the 2019-2020 flu season.

Traditional flu vaccines made to protect against three different flu viruses (called “trivalent” vaccines) are available. In addition, flu vaccines made to protect against four different flu viruses (called “quadrivalent” vaccines) also are available. The nasal spray flu vaccine (live attenuated influenza vaccine or LAIV) is also available for use for the 2019-2020 flu season.

Trivalent flu vaccine available this season include:

Quadrivalent flu vaccines available this season include: 

Find additional information on flu vaccine on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website

What viruses will the 2019-2020 flu vaccines protect against?

There are many different flu viruses and they are constantly changing. The composition of U.S. flu vaccines is reviewed annually and updated as needed to match circulating flu viruses. Flu vaccines protect against the three or four viruses (depending on vaccine) that research suggests will be most common.

  • Trivalent influenza vaccines (A/Brisbane/02/2018 (H1N1)pdm09–like virus, A/Kansas/14/2017 (H3N2)–like virus, B/Colorado/06/2017–like virus [Victoria lineage])
  • Quadrivalent influenza vaccines (includes 3 viruses + additional influenza B virus hemagglutinin, a B/Phuket/3073/2013–like virus [Yamagata lineage])
  • Standard-dose, unadjuvanted, inactivated influenza vaccines will be available in quadrivalent and trivalent formulations
  • Recombinant influenza vaccine and live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV4) will be available in quadrivalent formulations
  • High-dose inactivated influenza vaccine and adjuvanted inactivated influenza vaccine will be available in trivalent formulations

Can flu vaccine give you the flu?

No. Flu vaccine cannot give you the flu.

Some people incorrectly believe that they can get flu from the vaccine. The flu shot only contains proteins from the flu virus, so the virus cannot reproduce itself and cause illness. In addition, the vaccine is injected into the muscle which is not a means of flu transmission. It is not possible to get influenza from the vaccine.

Can I get the flu vaccine if I have an egg allergy?

There are two flu vaccines that don't contain egg proteins and are approved for use in adults age 18 and older. Flu vaccines that do have egg proteins can be given safely to most people with an egg allergy. Talk with your doctor about which flu vaccine is best for you.

See the CDC website for more information on flu vaccine and egg allergies. If you have had a severe allergic reaction to flu vaccine, regardless of the ingredient that caused the reaction, you should not receive future flu shots.

Does flu vaccine protect against viruses other than the flu?

No. Flu vaccine will not prevent illness from other flu-like viruses, including flu viruses not in the current flu vaccine. The vaccine contains three or four strains of flu viruses that research suggests will be circulating during the flu season.

Does vaccine protect throughout the flu season?

Yes. Getting vaccinated now will protect you throughout the flu season. Vaccination is the best way to protect yourself, your family, and your community from the flu. Be sure to check with your healthcare provider about getting a flu shot before flu viruses are circulating heavily in our area.

How long does it take for the vaccine to protect people from the flu?

It takes about 8 - 10 days after a single dose for the vaccine to create a strong immune response in most healthy adults. It can take up to two weeks in people most vulnerable to serious complications from an influenza infection. If you're planning to travel, be sure to get your flu shot at least two weeks before your trip.

What is the cost of flu vaccination for children under 19 years of age?

The Washington State Department of Health provides flu vaccine to all children under age 19 at no cost. Healthcare providers may charge an office visit fee and/or a fee to give the vaccine, called an administration fee. People who cannot afford the administration fee can ask their regular healthcare provider to waive the cost. Adults with insurance can talk to their insurance provider about coverage for flu vaccine.

How effective is the flu vaccine?

Flu vaccine effectiveness is influenced by several factors. Every year the flu vaccine is formulated based on a best estimate of the predominant virus strains likely to be circulating that year. Some years the virus strain match is better than other years.

No vaccine is 100 percent effective at preventing illness. The flu vaccine can provide moderate protection and help reduce severity of disease, even during a season when the vaccine is not as well matched to the circulating strains as was predicted. Flu vaccine helps prevent illness for approximately 12 months.

For more information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's "Vaccine Effectiveness--How Well Does the Flu Vaccine Work?" page.

Where to Find the Flu Vaccine

How do I find a flu vaccine?

  • Call your doctor, nurse or clinic.
  • Visit your local pharmacy.
  • Check the Flu Vaccine Finder.

Where can uninsured and under-insured individuals get low- or no-cost flu vaccinations?

Spokane Regional Health District recommends Spokane Mobile Clinic (509.552.6292) for low- to no-cost flu vaccinations.

How can my bussiness get its employees vaccinated?

Contact one of the following agencies for assistance with an on-site clinic.

Company Contact Contact Info Phone or Link


Eileen Fertig



Web Form Link

Rite Aid

Delia Saber




Hassan Gholi



Spokane Mobile Clinic

Tara Eggart



Flu Vaccine Recommendations

Who should get flu vaccine?

Everyone 6 months and older should get a yearly flu shot! Certain people are at greater risk for serious complications and are especially encouraged to get a flu vaccine, including:

  • Adults 65 years and older
  • Young children, especially those between 6 months and five years
  • Children and adults of any age with certain chronic health conditions or special healthcare needs, such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, neurological conditions, and certain other long-term health conditions
  • Pregnant women
  • Healthcare professionals and caregivers of people in any of the above groups
  • American Indians/Alaska Natives
  • People who are more than 100 pounds overweight

How many doses of the flu vaccine does my child need?

If your child is getting the seasonal flu shot for the first time, you can expect that she will also need a second shot a month later. Since 2009, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommended that all children age 6 months through 8 years old should get two doses of flu vaccine the first year that they are vaccinated against the flu. If your child had his first flu shot last year but only got a single shot, then this year he should get a flu shot and a booster shot. The second dose of vaccine should be administered at least 28 days after the first shot.

Vaccine Safety

Is the flu vaccine safe?

Yes. Flu vaccines have a very good and long safety record. Over the last 50 years, flu vaccines have been shown to be safe. The vaccine is made and rigorously tested in the same way each year, no matter what strains are included.

Like any medication, vaccines may have side effects. Every year, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) works closely with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), healthcare providers, state and local health departments, and other partners to ensure the highest safety standards for flu vaccines. CDC also works closely with the FDA to monitor unexpected health problems following vaccination.

Visit these links for more information about vaccine safety:

Are there side effects to the flu vaccine?

Side effects from the flu vaccine are mild, localized reactions. The most common side effects are:

  • Soreness, redness, tenderness, or swelling where the shot was given; headache, muscle aches, fever and nausea. If these problems occur, they usually begin soon after the shot and last one to two days. Fainting after vaccination occasionally occurs in adolescents.

Life-threatening allergic reactions are rare. If they do occur, it's usually within a few minutes to a few hours after the shot was given.

People who get the flu vaccine will be asked questions about their medical history to make sure it’s safe for them to receive the vaccine. A vaccine information statement will be provided to you at the time you get your shot. The statement explains benefits and risks associated with the flu vaccines, as well as signs of side effects to look for after vaccination and how to report side effects (also called adverse events).

What can I do if I have a side effect from a vaccine?

If you think you or your child may have a side effect from a vaccine, be sure to discuss this with your healthcare provider and either:

  • Ask your healthcare provider to file a report with the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS).
  • File a report yourself with VAERS (follow instructions for online reporting).

Can I get a mercury-free (or thimerosal-free) flu vaccine?

Yes, mercury-free flu vaccines are available and meet the requirements of the mercury-limiting law that went into effect in Washington state on July 1, 2007. The law requires that pregnant women and children under age 3 be given vaccines that are mercury-free (or thimerosal-free). Ask your provider or pharmacist about which vaccine is best for you.

What is thimerosal?

Thimerosal is a preservative used to prevent contamination. Thimerosal contains a type of mercury called ethylmercury. Ethylmercury breaks down and leaves the body more quickly than methylmercury (the type of mercury found in the environment that is associated with mercury poisoning). Thimerosal is much less likely to accumulate in the body and cause harm. The only flu vaccines that contain thimerosal are multi-dose vials. Single dose vials and pre-filled syringes do not require a preservative

Ask your doctor, nurse or clinic about mercury-free flu vaccines for you or your child or if you have more questions about this law.

Prevention and Treatment of Flu

Can the flu be treated?

Yes. There are medications called "antiviral drugs" that can be used to treat the flu. These drugs must be prescribed by a doctor.

What should I do if I think I have the flu?

If you have flu symptoms and they are severe, contact your doctor, nurse or clinic as soon as possible, especially if you are at high risk of developing flu-related complications. The best way to tell if you have flu is for a healthcare provider to swab your throat and use a lab test to confirm the diagnosis. If you have the flu, antiviral drugs are a treatment option.

How long should I stay home if I'm sick?

The CDC recommends that you stay home from work, school, travel, shopping, social events and public gatherings for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care. Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.

What are the emergency warning signs of flu sickness?

In children

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Fever with a rash

In addition to the signs above, get medical help right away for any infant who has any of these signs:

  • Being unable to eat
  • Has trouble breathing
  • Has no tears when crying
  • Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal

In adults

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough

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