The No. 1 thing you can do to help protect yourself from the flu is get a flu shot. Doctors recommend that everyone six months and older be vaccinated every year. Here are answers to some common questions about the flu shot.

When should I get a flu shot?

You really should have gotten one back in October, before flu season began, but it’s not too late to get one now. Flu season in Alabama typically lasts until March.

Does the flu shot work right away?

No. It takes about two weeks for the shot to do its work and help your body develop antibodies to fight the flu virus. That’s why you really should have gotten a flu shot back in October.

Where can I get the flu shot?

Your doctor’s office, the county health department, walk-in clinics and local pharmacies all offer flu shots. Shots are free with most health insurance plans. Some pharmacies are offering perks with flu shots. For instance, Target is offering $5 gift cards with flu shots. For every flu shot at Walgreens, the company will provide a vaccine for a child in a developing country.

Does it have to be a shot?

Yes it does. The nasal spray FluMist, which was primarily given to children, is not recommended this year, after studies showed it doesn’t work. This year, there is a new extra-potent flu shot recommended for people age 65 and older. There is also an egg-free shot for people who have egg allergies.

Should I get the flu shot if I’m not feeling well?

If you are running a fever, you should wait until your fever is gone before getting a flu shot. However, you can get a flu shot if you have a respiratory illness without a fever, or if you have another mild illness.

Are there side effects?

Yes, but they are usually mild. Possible side effects include soreness in the arm where you got the shot, low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches. While these are similar to flu symptoms, they are not the flu itself.

Can I get the flu from the flu shot?

No, no and no again. The flu vaccine contains either flu viruses that have been killed, or no flu viruses at all. People who develop flu after being vaccinated were likely exposed to the virus before they got the shot.

How long is my flu shot good for?

Just this one flu season. You need a flu shot every year for two reasons. First, because flu viruses are constantly changing, the formulation of the flu vaccine is updated every year. Second, the body’s immune response from vaccination declines over time. (This is the same reason you need a tetanus shot every 10 years. Say, when was the last time you had a tetanus shot?)


1. Wet your hands with warm water.

2. Apply a generous amount of soap.

3. Rub hands together for 20 seconds — about as long as it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" twice.

4. Rinse.

• You should wash your hands before eating, drinking or brushing your teeth.

• You should wash after going to the bathroom, blowing your nose, or coming in from school or shopping.

• If you are in a public bathroom, pull out paper towels before you wash your hands, so you don’t have to touch the towel dispenser after you’ve scrubbed up. After drying your hands, use the paper towels to turn off the faucet and turn the door handle.

• Soap and water is best, but hand sanitizers are good if there’s not a sink available. You want a sanitizer that contains at least 62 percent alcohol. The right way to use it: Apply sanitizer to the palm of one hand and then rub hands together, covering every inch of hands and fingers. Rub until hands are dry — about as long as it takes to sing "Happy Birthday" twice.


1. Stay away from sick people.

2. Wash your hands. A lot. There is a right way and a wrong way to do this. See "The Right Way to Wash Your Hands."

3. If you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth with a clean tissue, then immediately put the tissue in the trash. Even better, cough into your upper sleeve or the crook of your elbow.

4. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. That’s how the flu germ spreads.

5. Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that get touched a lot by different people, such as doorknobs, light switches, cabinet handles, faucet handles, phones and computer keyboards.

6. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.

7. Drink plenty of water.

8. Get some exercise.

9. Get plenty of sleep.


• Fever above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius), though not everyone with the flu has a fever

• Cough or sore throat

• Runny or stuffy nose

• Headache

• Muscle aches

• Chills

• Fatigue

• Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea (most common in children)



If you get the flu, antiviral drugs such as Tamiflu can help you feel better and get well faster, and can help prevent serious complications.

These drugs are available by prescription only, so you will have to go to a doctor’s office and get a flu test (usually done by swiping inside your nose with a swab).

These medicines work best if started within two days of getting sick, but can still be helpful if started after that.

Antibiotics will not help with the flu. Don’t bother asking for them.

For a natural remedy, some studies have shown that elderberry extract — specifically, an over-the-counter product called Sambucol — can help reduce the duration of the flu.



If you just have a sore throat and a little congestion, you likely just have a cold and are safe to go to work or school (as long as you promise to cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and wash your hands a lot).

However, if you have a fever over 100.5 and are achy all over, stay home. Please. For all our sakes. You are contagious. The rest of us do not want what you have.

The same goes for children. Do not send children to school with any symptoms of the flu. Have a contingency child care plan in place now.

Stay home from work or school until you have gone a full 24 hours without running a fever. (Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)