Overview

Flu vaccines: Your best shot at prevention

Flu vaccine appointments can be scheduled at multiple clinics and select UW Health pharmacies. Scheduled appointments will be available during regular business hours, and on weekends and early evening at select locations.

For those without health insurance, Public Health Madison and Dane County can help. Learn how

Vaccines

About flu vaccines

A flu shot can greatly reduce your chances of getting the flu. You need a vaccine every year because flu viruses are always changing. Doctors design the vaccine to work against the viruses they think will be most common each year. We give the vaccines by shot or nasal spray. They're extremely safe.

Who should get vaccinated?

Nearly everyone 6 months of age and older should get a yearly flu vaccine. There are different options including the flu shot and nasal spray. Your age and health help us decide which one is best for you.

You should not get vaccinated if you have a severe allergy to the vaccine or any of its ingredients. Your health care provider will speak with you about your health and allergies to come up with the best prevention strategies for you.

When should I get a flu shot?

Flu is most common in the fall and winter. It’s best to get your vaccine before the virus begins spreading. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to offer full protection.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting your vaccine by the end of October. If you don’t meet that date, you can — and should — get your vaccine as soon as possible.

Are there other types of flu vaccines?

FluMist is a nasal flu vaccine and is available in UW Health clinics when stock is available. It will be determined during your appointment by clinic staff or your provider if FluMist can be given.

Prevention

Preventing the flu

Protect yourself and others

The flu spreads mainly through tiny droplets that someone expels when they cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouth or nose of others. In some cases, the virus lands on surfaces, such as countertops or doorknobs. Someone might get sick if they touch these surfaces and then touch their mouth or eyes.

To protect yourself and others:

Cough or sneeze into a tissue instead of a handkerchief. Throw the tissue away. Or, cough or sneeze into your elbow if a tissue isn’t available.

If you’re sick, avoid close contact with others. Stay home when possible.

Use running water and soap and scrub for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren’t available, an alcohol-based hand rub is an option.

If you have picked up the virus by touching a surface, touching your eyes, nose or mouth could allow it to get into your body.

  • Clean frequently touched surfaces often

  • Drink plenty of liquids

  • Eat a healthy diet

  • Exercise

  • Get enough sleep

Symptoms and diagnosis

Cold, flu or COVID-19? How to know the difference

Knowing the symptoms of flu is important. If you’re at high risk for flu complications, you should contact your doctor as soon as you experience them. There are treatments that could help you.

You may be at high risk for flu complications if you:

  • Are 65 years old or older

  • Are pregnant

  • Have a chronic condition, such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease

A cold, the flu and even COVID-19 may seem a lot alike. Learn a few key signs to look for:

Influenza (Flu)

Some or all symptoms usually come on suddenly. Symptoms are more severe in people that do not get a flu vaccine.

  • Fever

  • Sore throat

  • Headache

  • Runny or stuffy nose

  • Cough

  • Chills

  • Muscle or body aches

  • Fatigue (tiredness)

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, and is more common in children

COVID-19

One or more symptoms could appear 2-14 days after exposure, with the average being 5 days.

  • Fever (100°F or higher)

  • Sore throat

  • Headache

  • Runny or stuffy nose

  • Cough

  • Chills

  • Muscle or body aches

  • Severe fatigue (tiredness)

  • Shortness of breath/chest tightness (for those under 12 years old – increased work to breathe)

  • Loss of taste or smell

For children under 12 years old, symptoms can include:

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Diarrhea

  • Poor feeding/appetite

  • Plus at least one respiratory symptom

Colds 

Symptoms come on gradually and last about 1-2 weeks. 

  • Low-grade fever (above 98.6° F, but lower than 100.4° F)

  • Sore throat

  • Headache

  • Runny or stuffy nose

  • Dry cough or wet cough without wheezing or rapid breathing

  • Mild general body aches

  • Red eyes

  • Sneezing

Diagnosing the flu

To confirm that you have flu, we swab the inside of your nose or the back of your throat. There are several different tests. Some give us results in minutes. Others take a bit longer. The longer tests tend to be the most accurate.

Treatment might help those most at risk

Many people get over the flu without treatment. If you’re at high risk for flu complications, your provider may prescribe antiviral medicines. These medicines may ease your symptoms and shorten the time you’re sick. They work best if you take them soon after your symptoms begin. At home, these self-care tips may help:

  • Drink plenty of fluids. If you get dehydrated, your fever might go up.

  • Go to bed earlier than usual. This can reduce stress and help you fight your infection.

  • Use a cool mist vaporizer or take hot, steamy showers. This can help with cough or congestion.

Patient and support services

Tools to help protect your health

These tools can help you learn more about flu and how to protect yourself and your family.

Know the difference between the flu, a cold, RSV, strep and COVID-19

Not every infectious disease, such as a cold or the flu, can be treated by your health care provider. By knowing the various symptoms and treatment solutions, you can avoid unnecessary visits to the doctor. You'll also be able to identify conditions that need medical attention. Learn the difference between the a cold, the flu, COVID-19 and more

Common COVID-19 and flu myths

Inaccurate health information can swirl around the Internet like a germ-filled fog, spreading faster than a nasty cough or sneeze. And as the COVID-19 pandemic and related research evolve, we continue to learn new information about this virus all the time, making it tough to sort fact from fiction. That confusion, combined with common myths that persist about the seasonal flu, can lead people to make unwise health decisions. Learn the facts behind common COVID-19 and flu myths

Flu or flu-like illness?

What is the difference between flu and flu-like illness? There is a lot of misuse of words out there, which can lead to confusion. Flu is often used as a generalized term that stands for influenza but is also used to describe colds and even the stomach flu – which is totally different. SARS-CoV-2 can present with a very wide variety of symptoms including those suggestive of influenza. Learn the difference between influenza or an influenza-like illness