Influenza, or "flu," can cause a range of symptoms including fever, coughing, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches, body aches, chills, and fatigue. Most healthy people recover from the flu without problems, but certain people are at high risk for serious complications, including the elderly, very young children, pregnant women, and those with compromised immune systems.
Annual outbreaks of the seasonal flu usually occur during the late fall through early spring, and while most people have natural immunity, in a typical year, approximately 5 to 20 percent of the population gets the seasonal flu.
A flu pandemic occurs when a new influenza virus emerges for which there is little or no immunity in the human population. In recent years, pandemic influenza has become an area of concern given multiple pandemic events including the H5N1 Virus (“Bird Flu”) and the H1N1 Virus (“Swine Flu”). The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have identified several characteristics and challenges of a flu pandemic, including rapid worldwide spread, health care systems overload, inadequate medical supplies, and economic and social disruption.
Learn to protect yourself and your family. Download our Hazard Prep Checklists and take steps to be prepared before and during a pandemic outbreak.
What Can I Do Before an Influenza Pandemic?
- Get vaccinated. Vaccination is the best protection against contracting the flu. Everyone 6 months of age and older should get vaccinated against the flu as soon as the seasonal vaccine is available in your area, unless you are directed otherwise by your doctor.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. You also can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth to avoid spreading germs.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- Ensure that your emergency kit is fully stocked, and consider increasing your water and food reserves to a two-week supply. During a pandemic, if you cannot get to a store, or if stores are out of supplies, it will be important for you to have these extra supplies on hand.
- Periodically check your regular prescription drugs to ensure that you have a continuous supply in your home.
- Have any nonprescription drugs and other health supplies on hand, including pain relievers, stomach remedies, cough and cold medicines, fluids with electrolytes, and vitamins.
- Talk with family members and loved ones about how they would be cared for if they got sick, or what would be needed to care for them in your home.
- Get involved in community efforts to prepare for an influenza pandemic.
Download a printable PDF version of this checklist
What Should I Do If I Get the Flu?
- If you have been diagnosed with flu, you should stay home, follow your doctor’s orders, and watch for signs that you need immediate medical attention.
- Get medical attention right away if you:
- Have difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Experience pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Have sudden dizziness
- Become confused
- Have severe or persistent vomiting
- Experience flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough
- The CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever (100°F or 37.8°C) is gone except to get medical care or for other things you have to do and no one else can do for you.
- Avoid close contact with others, especially those who might easily get the flu, such as people age 65 years and older, people of any age with chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant women, young children, and infants.
- Wash hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer often, especially after using tissues or coughing/sneezing into your hands.
- Cover your coughs and sneezes.
- Drink clear fluids such as water, broth, sports drinks, or electrolyte beverages made for infants to prevent becoming dehydrated.
- Get plenty of rest.
How Should I Care For A Sick Person At Home?
If you are taking care of someone at home who has flu, you should protect yourself and other people in the household.
- Avoid being face-to-face with the sick person. When holding small children who are sick, place their chin on your shoulder so that they will not cough in your face.
- If close contact with a sick individual is unavoidable, consider wearing a facemask or respirator.
- Ask the person’s health care provider about any special care that might be needed, especially if the person is pregnant or has a health condition such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma, or emphysema.
- Ask the patient’s health care provider whether the patient or you, as the caregiver, or other individuals who require daily contact with the patient, should take antiviral medications.
- Keep the sick person away from other people as much as possible, especially others who are at high risk of complications from influenza.
- Make sure everyone in the household washes their hands often, using soap and water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Seek immediate medical care if the patient:
- Has difficulty breathing or chest pain
- Has purple or blue discoloration of the lips
- Is vomiting and unable to keep liquids down
- Shows signs of dehydration, such as feeling dizzy when standing, being unable to urinate, or (in infants) crying without shedding tears
- Has seizures (for example, uncontrolled convulsions)
- Is less responsive than normal or becomes confused
Download a printable PDF version of this checklist
- Red Cross Flu Checklist
- Be a Germ Stopper: Health Habits That Keep You and Your Loved Ones Well
- US Department of Health and Human Services Pandemic Influenza Plan
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Vaccine Fact Sheet
- Resources for Pandemic Flu
- Pandemic Flu Checklist and Guide
- Recent Outbreaks
- “Cover Your Cough”
- Free Resources, Print Materials
- Flu Prevention Toolkit
- Stopping the Spread of Germs at Home, Work & School