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Public Health Division
Public Health Division

Frequently Asked Questions About Influenza

(often called the flu)



City of Berkeley Public Health Division
1947 Center Street, Second Floor, Berkeley, CA 94704
Map to Public Health Division

510-981-5300 (Phone)   510-981-5395 (Fax)   510-981-6903 (TDD)

Monday - Friday: 8:00am - 5:00pm

What is influenza?

How does the flu spread?

What are the symptoms of the flu?

Who should get influenza vaccine?

When should I get influenza vaccine?

Will the vaccine keep me from getting influenza this year?

Can I get the flu from the flu shot?

Can other vaccines be given at the same time?

What are the risks from influenza vaccine?

What if I have symptoms after I get the shot?


What is Influenza (often called the flu)?
The flu is a virus and can be a serious disease. Influenza can make people of any age ill. Although most people are ill for only a few days, some have a much more serious illness and may need to be hospitalized. Thousands of people die each year from influenza-related illnesses. Most deaths caused by influenza are in elderly people.

How does the flu spread? 
It spreads when influenza viruses pass from an infected person to the nose or throat of another person.  It can also be spread by touching an object that has flu virus on it and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes.
The flu is often confused with the common cold. Flu symptoms start quickly (usually 1 to 4 days after a person is exposed to the flu virus). 

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The symptoms of flu are: 
Fever, chills, headache, cough, sore throat, fatigue, and muscle aches.

It’s important to know that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

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Who should get influenza vaccine (often called the flu shot)?

  • All persons aged 6 months and older should be vaccinated annually, with rare exceptions.
    • Vaccination of high risk persons is especially important to decrease their risk of severe flu illness.
    • People at high risk include young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease and people 65 years and older.

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When should I get influenza vaccine?

Influenza is most common in the U.S. from December to April, so it is best to get the vaccine in the fall. The best time to get the influenza vaccine is mid- September to mid-November. It takes about 2 weeks for the vaccine to develop immunity in the body and provide protection.

People 9 years and older need one shot each influenza season, while children less than 9 years old may need a second shot after one month.

The viruses that cause influenza change often, and protection declines within a year after vaccination. 

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Will the vaccine keep me from getting influenza this year? 
No.  Since influenza viruses change frequently, they may not always be covered by the vaccine. Also, other viruses cause diseases that seem like influenza, and the influenza vaccine does not protect against these viral infections. The vaccine contains viruses that are the same or similar to those thought to be most likely to come to the U.S. this year.

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Can I get the flu from the flu shot?
No. All the viruses in the vaccine are killed so you cannot get influenza from the vaccine. 

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Can other vaccines be given at the same time?

Yes, but in a different arm. These include:

  • Pneumococcal vaccine
  • All childhood vaccines  
  • Check with your provider for more information

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What are the risks from influenza vaccine?
As with any medicine, there are very small risks that serious problems could occur after taking the vaccine. But the risks from the vaccine are much smaller than the risks from the disease itself. Almost all people who get influenza vaccine have no serious problems from it. 

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What if I have symptoms after I get the shot?
Most people will experience no side effects from the influenza vaccine. Only one out of three people who receive the vaccine will have some soreness at the vaccination site, and about 5% to 10% will experience a headache or a mild fever. The most serious side effect that can occur after an influenza vaccination is an allergic reaction in individuals with severe, life-threatening allergies to flu vaccine or any ingredient in the vaccine.  Please speak to your provider if you have concerns.

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If mild or moderate problems occur, they usually start soon after the vaccination and usually last up to 1-2 days. 
These may include:

  • soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given
  • fever
  • aches

Tell your doctor or nurse if you:

  • have a serious allergy to eggs.
  • Ever had a serious allergic reaction or other problem after getting influenza vaccine.
  • Ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome.
  • Now have a moderate or severe illness.

What to do if there is a serious reaction:

For more information about seasonal influenza:


For information on Avian Influenza, including guidance for clinicians:


For information on Pandemic Influenza:


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Public Health Division, 1947 Center Street, 2nd Floor, Berkeley, CA 94704
Questions or comments? Email: publichealth@cityofberkeley.info Phone: (510) 981-5300
(510) 981-CITY/2489 or 311 from any landline in Berkeley
TTY: (510) 981-6903