Influenza & the Flu - Ascension Wisconsin

Skip to Content


All About the Flu

Stop the Flu Before It Gets You

Fall is here ... and that means flu season is right around the corner. But you've come to the right place - we're your headquarters for everything flu related! Here you'll find answers to frequently asked questions, can download our flu toolkit, and get the latest news on influenza and pneumonia.

Protect Yourself & Those Around You

Dr. Margaret Hennessy, pediatrician with Wheaton Franciscan Medical Group, provides a useful, brief overview of flu prevention, symptoms and treatments.

Frequently Asked Questions

You've got flu-related questions ... we've got answers!

How serious is the flu?

According to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), on average 200,000 people are hospitalized each year due to flu complications. Thirty-six thousand people die every year from the flu, often from complications that lead to pneumonia.

How can I protect myself from getting the flu?

  • Get a flu shot.
  • Wash your hands frequently, especially after sneezing, coughing, or blowing your nose; consider also using alcohol-based hand sanitizer frequently if soap and water are not available.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze with a tissue. If a tissue is not available cough or sneeze into your elbow, not your hands, to help stop the spread of viruses.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • If you feel sick, stay home!
  • If you develop a fever and respiratory symptoms (such as stuffy nose, cough, etc.), stay home for at least 24 hours after you no longer have a fever without the use of fever-reducing medications.

The CDC and the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommends flu vaccination as the first and most important step in protecting against the flu.

What are the symptoms of the flu?

Influenza tends to be a respiratory illness, not a stomach bug. That is a big misunderstanding by many. Flu-like symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Young children may also have vomiting and diarrhea.

What's the difference between a cold and the flu?

The symptoms are similar, so the difference can be tricky. Colds tend to be milder than the flu. Generally, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms such as fever, body aches, extreme tiredness and dry cough are more common and intense. Flu is more likely than colds to result in serious complications such as pneumonia, bacterial infections or hospitalizations.

Why should I consider getting the flu vaccine?

The flu vaccine can greatly reduce your chance of getting the flu, the seriousness of it if it is contracted, and reduce your risk of developing complications, which can be fatal. The flu shot contains three strains of inactivated flu viruses that help the body build immunity to the flu. Later, when you come in contact with the flu virus, your body protects you, and you either do not develop the flu, or develop a mild case.

Who should get the flu vaccine?

According to the CDC, all individuals aged 6 months and older are recommended to get the seasonal flu vaccine.

It’s especially important that the following groups get vaccinated either because they are at high risk of having serious flu-related complications or because they live with or care for people at high risk for developing flu-related complications:

  • Pregnant women
  • Children younger than 5 years, but especially children aged 2 years or younger
  • Those who are age 50 years and older
  • People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions
  • Individuals who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities

Those who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including:

  • Health care workers
  • Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu
  • Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated)
  • Studies show that morbid obesity is a newly recognized medical risk factor for influenza complications. This would include individuals who have a Body Mass Index (BMI) > 40.

How does the seasonal flu vaccine work?

The seasonal flu vaccine protects against viruses that are constantly changing. The composition of the flu vaccines is reviewed annually and updated to match three or four of the most common circulating flu viruses. It takes about two weeks after vaccination to develop protective antibodies.

How many shots will I need to be protected?

Most people will only need one flu shot per season, but remember that some children 6 months through 8 years of age will require two doses of flu vaccine for adequate protection from flu. For more information, please talk to your primary care doctor or child's pediatrician.

Should I get this year's flu vaccine even if I was vaccinated before?

Yes. The CDC recommends you get the flu vaccine even if you got the seasonal flu shot last fall, or if you became sick with influenza in the past. You should get a dose of influenza vaccine every year.

What types of flu shots are available and are they safe?

All flu vaccines have gone through strenuous safety studies. You cannot develop the flu from any of the flu vaccines. Each vaccine contains three or four different strains of influenza viruses, which changes each year based on international surveillance and scientist's estimations about which types and strains of viruses will circulate in a given year. Each vaccine below will contain the same strains as the traditional flu vaccine for this year. It does take two weeks for full protection from any of the flu vaccine products.

Here is an overview of the available forms of flu vaccine.

  • Traditional seasonal flu vaccine is the typical flu shot and is an inactivated vaccine (containing killed virus) given with a needle for ages 6 months and older. It is used for all age groups and can be used in persons with chronic health conditions and pregnant women.
  • High dose flu vaccine, which has been out for a few years, can be used in adults aged 65 years and older. It delivers four times more amount of antigens (name for particles of the vaccine) than traditional flu vaccine and can be used in place of the traditional flu vaccine. The actual injection is the same size as the traditional flu vaccine and side effects are not much more than expected with the traditional flu vaccine. This vaccine does appear to be more effective in preventing the flu compared to the traditional flu vaccine. It's not available at all clinics. Persons over 65 years can also use the traditional flu vaccine and should not skip getting a flu vaccine if the high does is not available.
  • Intradermal flu vaccine is for adults aged 19-64 years. It uses a microneedle that is less than an eighth of an inch long and was developed for adults who are afraid of needles. This vaccine will protect like the traditional flu vaccine but the recipient may see more localized reaction (like a mosquito bite) from the vaccine. This would be used in place of the traditional flu vaccine and is not available at all clinics.

How can I treat myself for the flu if I get it?

For normally healthy individuals, rest, staying hydrated (drink water, broth or electrolyte beverages; for infants, continue with breastfeeding or formula) and treating flu symptoms as needed may be helpful in tackling typical flu symptoms, such as body ache, fever and chills. Remain at home for at least 24 hours after fever is gone without taking fever-reducing medicines (ie, Tylenol).

We don't recommend use of over-the-counter cough medication, especially in young children. Acetaminophen can be used in all children, ibuprofen for children over 6 months. Never use aspirin in children under 18 years of age. Parents of children under 2 months of age with fever must contact their health care provider.

For individuals who are at high risk of developing complications, your physician or health care provider may prescribe you antiviral drugs, such as Tamiflu® and Relenza® (generic versions are oseltamivir and zanamivir). Antiviral drugs can make illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They may also prevent serious flu complications. They are not sold over-the-counter and are different from antibiotics.

It’s very important that antiviral drugs be used early to treat flu in people who are very sick with flu (i.e. individuals who are hospitalized) and people who are sick with flu and have a greater chance of getting serious flu complications. Most healthy people with flu, however, do not need to be treated with antiviral drugs.

When should I call the doctor if I have the flu?

Most people who get the flu will recover without serious complications. Some people in high risk groups are more likely to get flu complications and should talk to their health care provider, including:

  • Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old
  • People age 65 and older
  • Pregnant women
  • People who have a chronic health condition or weakened immune system

Emergency Warning Signs
Anyone with these warning signs should get medical care right away:

In children

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish or gray skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
  • Cold or flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • No urine output for 6-8 hours in young children.

In adults

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

Why should I consider getting Pneumovax?

Another vaccine (Pneumovax) is available at our Community Flu Clinics and at Wheaton Franciscan Medical Group offices to help reduce your chances of developing infections caused by the pneumococcal bacteria. This bacteria is responsible for meningitis, bacteriemia (infection in the blood), pneumonia and ear infections. It can also complicate an influenza infection. This vaccine is recommended for people aged 65 and up as a one-time dose and for some children and adults with certain chronic conditions.

Influenza Toolkit

Brought to you by the Wisconsin Division of Public Health, the Wisconsin Pandemic Influenza Toolkit for Families is a resource to help you and your family in preparing for and responding to pandemic or seasonal influenza.

The toolkit provides guidance on:

  • Preventing influenza
  • Caring for sick family members
  • Preparing your family for a pandemic
  • Staying healthy during a pandemic
  • Deciding when to stay home during a pandemic

More information on preparing your family for an influenza pandemic can be found on the websites listed in the Resources section of the toolkit. Several of these sites list fun activities to get your family involved in the planning process. By planning now, your family members will be better prepared to care for each other during a pandemic.