2014 Influenza Season Information and FAQs

Illness from influenza (flu) is now on the rise in California and the predominant type is the same virus that caused the 2009 H1N1 (Swine flu) Pandemic.

The good news is that it is one of the strains included in the current flu vaccine, which should protect you from becoming sick if you are exposed to the virus. There is still time to receive the vaccine and to benefit from it over the coming weeks.

Get vaccinated through your health plan, primary care provider's office, or any pharmacy chain. Vaccination not only prevents serious illness in you, but it also will keep you from spreading influenza to your family, friends and co-workers.

If you are experiencing flu symptoms, stay home from work or school and avoid other public places. Flu symptoms include: an abrupt onset of chills, fever (often above 101°F), headache, muscle aches, and general malaise. People with influenza may also have a sore throat and often develop a cough.

The adult and pediatric Emergency Department at Stanford Hospital & Clinics is open. However, so that we can keep the Emergency Department available for those in critical need, patients with flu symptoms should see their primary care physician first or visit Stanford Express Care located at 211 Quarry Road, Suite 202, Palo Alto, CA 94304. Stanford Express Care hours are Monday – Friday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday – Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The clinic is open to the general public. For an appointment, please call (650) 736-5211.

To learn more about H1N1 flu, prevention and treatment, please see answers to Frequently Asked Questions below. For additional information about H1N1 flu in Santa Clara County visit:

Frequently Asked Questions and Answers about Influenza

Is influenza infection the same as a “cold”?

No! Many times people confuse cold and influenza (flu), which share some of the same symptoms and occur at the same time of the year (usually during the winter months). However, the two diseases are very different. Colds are caused by different viruses than influenza and usually cause mild illness such as a sore throat, runny or congested nose and cough. Most people with colds do not feel bad enough to stay in bed. Influenza is a more severe viral infection caused by influenza viruses that can make you very ill.

What are the symptoms of influenza?
The flu usually begins with an abrupt onset of chills, fever (often above 101°F), headache, muscle aches and general malaise. People with influenza may also have a sore throat and often develop a cough. If the flu progresses to pneumonia, the person may feel short of breath. Vomiting and diarrhea can also be present, and is more common in children.

Uncomplicated influenza most often gets better with or without treatment, but may cause substantial discomfort and limitation of activity before getting better. Complications of influenza can include bacterial infections, viral pneumonia, and other severe respiratory complications that may sometimes become life threatening. For some individuals with underlying chronic illnesses, influenza infections may be particularly severe and require treatment with an anti-viral medication. Treatment is most effective if started earlier in the illness. You should consult your primary care provider to seek advice about your risk for influenza complications.

How is influenza spread?
The flu virus is highly contagious and is easily passed from person-to-person most often when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Transmission can also occur by touching a surface contaminated with respiratory secretions and then putting your fingers in or near your mouth, nose or eyes. The flu virus can live on a hard surface for up to 24 hours but is easily killed with household cleaners that contain bleach.

To reduce transmission, it is important that if someone has a respiratory infection that they cover their nose and mouth when they cough and sneeze, preferably with a tissue, and wash their hands afterwards.

The incubation period – the period between infection and the appearance of symptoms - is about two to three days. Although influenza virus can be spread from person-to-person even before symptoms appear, adults are usually considered infectious once symptoms appear and for three to five days afterwards or if they still have a fever. This period is often longer in children.

What should you do if you get influenza?
Stay home, rest, drink plenty of fluids and take acetaminophen or ibuprofen for fever and muscle aches.

How can I protect myself and my family from getting influenza?
The best protection is to get a flu shot or the FluMist (nasal spray) Vaccine every year. Influenza usually peaks in February, so it may not be too late to get your shot. Wash your hands with soap and water after coming into contact with someone who is sick or use an alcohol-based sanitizer (gel or wipes) to help reduce the spread of germs. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or the inside of your elbow when you cough or sneeze. Stay home when you are sick.

How does the influenza vaccine work?
About seven to 10 days after vaccination, your body makes antibodies that help to protect you against infection from the influenza virus. This protection lasts about a year. A previous flu infection or vaccination will not necessarily provide protection against further infections because the virus is continually changing genetically and different subtypes circulate each winter. The vaccine does not always prevent illness, but even if you do get sick, you will shed less virus and will have milder illness if you have been vaccinated. It is important to note that the vaccine does not prevent other respiratory virus infections, like the common cold, that also circulate during the winter.

Who should get the influenza vaccine?
Most people over six months of age should be vaccinated against influenza. There are a few exceptions, such as for people with allergic reactions to chicken eggs or to previous influenza vaccinations. Check with your health care provider or pharmacy.

Does the influenza vaccine have any side effects?
Flu vaccines are very safe. They may cause some soreness at the injection site and, less often, a slight temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days.

Can the vaccine cause flu?
No. The flu shot does not contain live virus and cannot cause the flu. The nasal spray vaccine does contain a weakened form of the live influenza virus and cannot cause infections in the lungs.

When should I go to the Emergency Department or seek medical attention?
In children, seek medical attention for any of the following:

  1. High or prolonged fever for more than four to five days
  2. Fast breathing, labored breathing or trouble breathing. Infants and young children may pull in their chest or abdomen when they breathe, or flare their nose. This is a sign of respiratory distress.
  3. Bluish skin color, especially around the lips or fingers
  4. Not drinking enough fluids
  5. Changes in mental status, somnolence, irritability
  6. Confusion or lethargy
  7. Influenza-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  8. Worsening of underlying chronic medical conditions (for example, heart or lung disease, diabetes)
  9. Severe or persistent vomiting (more than three to four times in 24 hours)
  10. Cough becomes productive of yellow sputum

In adults, seek medical attention for any of the following:

  1. High or prolonged fever for more than four to five days
  2. Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  3. Cough becomes productive of yellow sputum
  4. Pain or pressure in the chest
  5. Near-fainting or fainting
  6. Dizziness or light-headedness with standing
  7. Confusion or altered level of consciousness (not acting normally)
  8. Severe or persistent vomiting (more than three to four times in 24 hours)

About Stanford Medicine Children’s Health

Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, with Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford at its center, is the Bay Area’s largest health care system exclusively dedicated to children and expectant mothers. Our network of care includes more than 65 locations across Northern California and more than 85 locations in the U.S. Western region. Along with Stanford Health Care and the Stanford School of Medicine, we are part of Stanford Medicine, an ecosystem harnessing the potential of biomedicine through collaborative research, education, and clinical care to improve health outcomes around the world. We are a nonprofit organization committed to supporting the community through meaningful outreach programs and services and providing necessary medical care to families, regardless of their ability to pay. Discover more at