Flu Information

MedStar Montgomery Medical Center helps you fight the flu.

MedStar Montgomery Medical Center strives to deliver the best health care to every patient and community member we secure every day. The patient and community member is the first priority in everything we do.

Flu season typically ranges between November and April, and commonly peaking in January or February. In fact, seasonal flu activity is unpredictable and can occur at anytime. In this regard, MedStar Montgomery Medical Center urges you to be cautious about the flu and take proactive actions to protect yourself and your family members against illness. Helpful information is provided in the following pages.

Flu Basics

What is flu?

Influenza, also called the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness and at times lead to death.

Influenza viruses cause disease among all age groups. Rates of infection are highest among children. Yet, rates of serious illness and death are highest among the elderly, children less than two, and persons of any age who have medical conditions that place them at increased risk for influenza complications.

The best way to prevent the flu is to get a seasonal flu vaccination each fall.

How Flu Spreads

Flu, a contagious disease, is mainly transmitted from one person to another by respiratory droplets which occur during coughing, sneezing, talking. Less often, a person might get flu by touching surfaces contaminated with the flu virus and then touching your mouth or nose.

You can pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Adults can spread the flu up to one day before symptoms develop and five to seven days after becoming sick. Some people, especially children and people with weakened immune systems, can spread the flu for an even longer time.

Symptoms of flu

People who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:

  • Fever (Not everyone with flu will have a fever)
  • Feeling feverish/chills
  • Headaches
  • Cough or sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Fatigue (extremely tired)
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (more often happening among children than adults)

Flu Complications

Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.

Certain people are at greater risk for serious complications if they get the flu. This includes older people, young children, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions* (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease).

High risk population for developing flu-related complications

  • Children younger than 5, but especially children younger than 2 years old
  • The elderly over 65 years of age
  • Pregnant women
  • American Indians and Alaskan Natives
  • People who have medical conditions include, but not limited to:
    • Asthma
    • Neurological disorders
    • Chronic lung disease
    • Heart disease
    • Diabetes
    • Organ disorders (e.g. kidney disorders, liver disorders)
    • Weakened immune system due to disease or medication (such as people with HIV, AIDS, or cancer)
    • People who are morbidly obese (Body Mass Index [BMI] of 40 or greater)

Flu Prevention

The three-step approach to prevent you from getting flu:

  1. Take time to get a flu vaccine

    The Center of Disease Control (CDC) said the single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine each year starting with the 2010-2011 flu season. Everyone 6 months of age and older should get vaccinated against the flu each year, and it's critical that certain people 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. However, some people should not be vaccinated without first consulting a physician, such as people having severe allergy to chicken eggs, people having severe reaction to an influenza vaccination in the past, or children younger than six months of age. If you have questions about whether you should get a flu vaccine, please consult our health care providers.

  2. Take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread

    • Wash your hands frequently
      Wash your hands often with soap and water for 15-30 seconds, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Also, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth frequently.
    • Cover your cough or sneeze
      Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow when coughing and/or sneezing. Discard tissues in trash.
    • Disinfect common surfaces
      The flu virus can survive on common surfaces such as doorknobs, desks and phone receivers for up to 72 hours.
    • Avoid your contact
      Limit contact with people who are sick. Also, if you are sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them or wear at mask at all times.
  3. Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them

    Antiviral drugs can make illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They may also prevent serious flu complications. Antiviral drugs are different from antibiotics. They are prescription medicines (pills, liquid or an inhaled powder) and are not available over-the-counter.

Flu Frequently Asked Questions

When does the flu activity begin and when does it peak?

The flu activity varies from season to season and is very unpredictable. The peak of flu activity usually occurs in the U.S. in January or February. However, seasonal flu activity can occur as late as May.

How effective is the flu vaccine?

The effectiveness of the vaccine varies due to the level of the match between the viruses in the vaccine and flu viruses that are circulating in the community. If these are closely matched, vaccine effectiveness would be higher. If they are not closely matched, vaccine effectiveness can be reduced. Currently, the effectiveness of vaccine falls between 70% and 90% among healthy adults.

How many people get sick or die from the flu every year?

Overall, 5% to 20% of U.S. residents get the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized for the flu-related complications each year. Flu-associated deaths also range from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people every year.

Is the "stomach flu" really the flu?

Many people use the term "stomach flu" to describe illnesses with nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. These symptoms can be caused by many different viruses, bacteria or even parasites, and they can sometimes be related to the flu, particularly in children. However, these problems are rarely the main symptoms of influenza. The flu is dominantly a respiratory disease and not a stomach or intestinal disease.

What is the difference between a "cold" and the "flu"?

The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses. Because these two types of illnesses have similar flu-like symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. In general, 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. Colds are usually milder than the flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations.

How can you tell the difference between a cold and the flu?

Because colds and flu have similar symptoms, it can be difficult (or even impossible) to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. Special tests that usually must be done within the first few days of illness can be carried out, when needed to tell if a person has the flu.