How to prevent the flu Published Oct. 25, 2021 By Greg Chadwick, Air Force Materiel Command Health & Wellness Team Air Force Materiel Command WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio -- Influenza (flu) season happens every year. It starts in the fall and continues into the spring. Flu is a potentially serious illness that can lead to a few days of feeling bad and missing work, or it may result in more serious health complications. What is the flu? The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. How does the flu spread? People who have the flu can spread the virus by coughing or sneezing. Droplets released when a sick person coughs, sneezes, or talks can land in the mouths of noses or people who are nearby. The droplets can also be inhaled into the lungs. People may also catch the flu by touching their mouth or nose after touching something with the virus on it, such as doorknobs, tables, or an infected person’s dirty hand. Flu germs can linger on surfaces for up to 8 hours. Why should people get vaccinated against flu? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends annual flu vaccination as the best way to protect against the flu. Vaccination has been shown to have many benefits including reducing the risk of flu illnesses, hospitalizations and flu-related deaths. How do flu vaccines work? Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection with circulating influenza viruses. Why do I need a flu vaccine every year? A flu vaccine is needed every year for two reasons. First, a person’s immune protection from vaccination declines over time, so an annual flu vaccine is needed for optimal protection. Second, because flu viruses are constantly changing, the composition of flu vaccines is reviewed annually and vaccines are updated to protect against the viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming flu season. Will a flu vaccine protect me against COVID-19? No, flu vaccines are not designed to protect against COVID-19. Flu and COVID-19 are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. Also, according to the CDC, a person can receive a COVID-19 vaccine and a flu vaccine at the same visit. Where can I get a flu vaccine? Influenza vaccinations for all military members are a mandatory requirement, and are available through each installation’s Medical Group or at any participating Tricare eligible pharmacies. Tricare beneficiaries are also eligible for flu shots through immunization clinics on base, or at no cost at Tricare eligible pharmacies. For the civilian workforce, all Federal Employee Health Benefit plans cover flu shots at no cost for members and are available at local retail pharmacies. What are everyday preventive actions that are recommended to reduce the spread of flu? Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Germs spread this way. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with viruses that cause flu. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. If you are sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them. If you sick with flu-like symptoms, the CDC recommends that people stay home for at least 24 hours after their fever is gone except to get medical care or other necessities. Fever should be gone without the need to use fever-reducing medicine. If you want your immune system to be in good enough shape to fight off the flu and other germs, you need to practice healthy lifestyle habits. Get 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, exercise at least 4 days a week, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious foods. For more information on preventing the flu, visit USAFwellness.com or contact your local Civilian Health Promotion Services team. Comprehensive information on healthy habits to prevent flu can be found at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website at cdc.gov.