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Influenza Quick Facts
- Influenza, often referred to as “flu,” is a viral respiratory disease caused by type A or type B influenza viruses, which constantly mutate, and are infectious in humans and animals. Different influenza strains cause outbreaks and epidemics and, infrequently, cause pandemics that spread globally and are usually associated with more severe disease and increased mortality. Historically, influenza pandemics have involved type A influenza strains like the one that caused the 1918-19 influenza pandemic.
- Symptoms of influenza include fever, chills, headache, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, coughing, sneezing, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. Serious complications of influenza infection include dehydration, bronchitis, bacterial or viral pneumonia, otitis media (ear infection) and, in very severe cases, death. The majority of people recover from type A or B influenza without serious complications. The elderly, very young children, pregnant women and persons with certain chronic diseases, like asthma and heart or lung disease, are at higher risk for influenza complications.
- Over 70 percent of all respiratory infections that occur during the “flu season” are not type A or type B influenza because there are many other viruses and bacteria that can cause respiratory “influenza-like illness” (ILI). ILI infection symptoms are similar to influenza symptoms and only lab tests can confirm whether an individual has been infected by influenza or an ILI.
- Influenza viruses are primarily spread through coughing and sneezing. Public health officials say that, for a limited time period, influenza can also be transmitted if an uninfected person touches or uses items that have been recently handled by an infected person.
- Frequent hand washing; covering the mouth while coughing; staying home when sick and avoiding contact with infected individuals; staying hydrated and eating nutritious food; lowering stress and getting plenty of exercise; sleep and vitamin D are helpful in the preventing influenza and ILI infections. (View NVIC's 3 minute flu prevention video.)
Influenza (Flu) Vaccines
- There are several different influenza vaccines licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and distributed by manufacturers for use in the U.S. that are recommended by the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for different age groups. Seasonal influenza vaccines in the U.S. contain two type A influenza viruses and two type B influenza viruses (Quadrivalent) that are selected every year by the World Health Organization (WHO) and U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for inclusion in influenza vaccines given during the current flu season.
- Most of the influenza vaccines in use in the U.S. are injectable, inactivated vaccines that are made using chicken embryos, insect cells, or dog kidney cells. Depending upon the vaccine manufacturer, some influenza vaccines contain an oil in water squalene adjuvant that hyper-stimulates the immune system to produce a stronger antibody response. Injectable influenza vaccines packaged in multi-dose vials contain the mercury preservative thimerosal, and inactivated influenza vaccines packaged in single dose vials are either thimerosal-free or contain trace amounts of the mercury preservative, while the live attenuated nasal vaccine contains no thimerosal.
- The CDC recommends that all Americans six months of age or older get a flu shot every year and that babies between six and eight months old receive two doses of influenza vaccine one month apart in the first year of life. The CDC reports that between 2004/2005 and 2022/2023, overall influenza vaccine effectiveness ranged from 10 percent (2004/2005) to 60 percent (2010/2011) and the vaccine was less than 50 percent effective in 13 out of 19 flu seasons.
- Using the MedAlerts search engine, as of January 26, 2024, there have been 224,274 reports of influenza vaccine reactions, hospitalizations, injuries and deaths following influenza vaccinations made to the federal Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS), including 2,481 related deaths, 17,330 hospitalizations, and 4,859 related disabilities. Moderate reactions reported include fever, local reactions (pain, redness, swelling at the site of the injection), headache, fatigue, sore throat, nasal congestion, cough, joint and muscle pain, and nausea. Serious vaccine complications include brain inflammation and neurological damage, convulsions, Bell’s palsy, limb paralysis, neuropathy, shock, wheezing/asthma and other breathing problems, and death. Influenza vaccinations can cause Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS), a painful and disabling immune and neurological disorder of the peripheral nervous system that can cause temporary or permanent paralysis and death.
- In 2013, the Federal Advisory Commission on Childhood Vaccines (ACCV) voted to add GBS to the Vaccine Injury Table (VIT) within the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) and it was officially added in 2017. As of February 1, 2024, there have been 9,903 claims filed in the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP) for injuries and deaths following influenza vaccination, including 238 deaths and 9,665 serious injuries.
Food & Drug Administration (FDA)
- Adjuvanted Influenza Vaccine Product Inserts & Licensing Information
- Live Trivalent and Quadrivalent Intranasal Influenza Vaccine Product Insert & Licensing Information
- Attenuated Trivalent and Quadrivalent Injectable Influenza Vaccine Product Insert & Licensing Information
Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
- CDC - About Influenza
- CDC – Past Seasonal Flu Shot Vaccine Effectiveness Estimates
- CDC – Seasonal Flu Shot
- CDC on 2009 H1N1 Swine Flu Vaccine
- CDC on Influenza (Flu) Vaccine Safety
National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases (NIAID)
Vaccine Reaction Symptoms & Ingredients
Search for Vaccine Reactions
NVIC hosts MedAlerts, a powerful VAERS database search engine. MedAlerts examines symptoms, reactions, vaccines, dates, places, and more.
Reporting a Vaccine Reaction
Since 1982, the NVIC has operated a Vaccine Reaction Registry, which has served as a watchdog on VAERS. Reporting vaccine reactions to VAERS is required by federal law under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986. If your doctor will not report a reaction, you have the right to report a suspected vaccine reaction to VAERS.
IMPORTANT NOTE: NVIC encourages you to become fully informed about Influenza and the Influenza vaccine by reading all sections in the Table of Contents, which contain many links and resources such as the manufacturer product information inserts, and to speak with one or more trusted health care professionals before making a vaccination decision for yourself or your child. This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice.