Cover your cough as flu season arrives

By Jean The autumn air brings descending leaves and influenza's arrival. While deciduous trees' shedding foliage can't be averted, influenza, through vaccination, can be prevented. Influenza (the flu) is a...

By Jean Ruzicka

The autumn air brings descending leaves and influenza’s arrival.

While deciduous trees’ shedding foliage can’t be averted, influenza, through vaccination, can be prevented.

Influenza (the flu) is a respiratory disease caused by a virus that attacks the nose, throat and lungs. It can be mild, but sometimes severe. It’s spread by coughing, sneezing and close contact.

It’s not the same as the stomach “flu.” And the common cold – with symptoms of a stuffy, runny nose ­– is generally less serious. Most people with a cold continue their normal routine.


The flu brings on aches, fever and fatigue and can result in serious health problems such as pneumonia and bacterial infections, sometimes sending people to the hospital.

Flu symptoms include fever, a dry cough, sore throat, headache, extreme tiredness and body aches, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. These symptoms can come on quickly and may be severe. A victim of the virus can be bed-ridden for several days.

A flu vaccine triggers the body’s immune response to the virus and helps prevent spreading flu from person to person.

The MDH recommends everyone 6 months of age or older get a flu vaccine every year. Getting a flu shot or using nasal spray helps protect you from getting the flu and prevents passing it on to people who may become very ill.

People most at risk for becoming very sick with the flu are those 65 or older; young children, especially those under 2 years; pregnant women; people with chronic health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease, and American Indians and Alaska natives.

Although these groups are at highest risk, anyone can become very sick with the flu.

For best protection, it’s best to get the flu vaccination in the early fall, before flu season starts. But it’s administered throughout the flu season, typically October through April.

Children 6 months through 8 years old may need two doses at least four weeks apart.


Several vaccines are now available. The live, nasal spray vaccine (LAIV) can be given to healthy, non-pregnant persons 2 to 50 years of age. This vaccine is preferred for kids age 2 through 8, if the child has no contraindications, such as asthma.

The injectable flu shot doesn’t contain a live influenza virus. It takes about two weeks for protection to develop after the vaccination, lasting several months to a year.

Flu viruses are always changing. Each year’s flu vaccine is made to protect against three or four viruses that are likely to cause the disease that year.

People who should not use the nasal spray are those with severe, life-threatening allergies, those who’ve had Guillain-Barrè Syndrome (GBS) or those with long-term health problems, such as heart, breathing, kidney, liver or nervous system problems.

The flu shot is not recommended for those with severe allergies, those who’ve experienced GBS or who are experiencing an illness.

Come back when you’re feeling better, the MDH advises.

General advice for this time of year: Cover your cough. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands.

Clean your hands after coughing or sneezing. Wash your hands with soap and warm water or clean with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

What To Read Next
Get Local