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MIT Flu Central:

Flu FAQ

Updated September 5, 2013

Prevention

Illness

Vaccinations

 

PREVENTION

What is the incubation period for the influenza virus?
The “incubation period” for an illness refers to the period between the time an individual becomes infected with the illness and the time they begin showing symptoms. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that it’s between one and four days. The CDC considers people infected with influenza to be infectious—able to transmit the infection to other people—one day before they begin showing symptoms.

How can I keep from getting sick?
Members of the MIT community are urged to follow the same strategies they would ordinarily use to protect themselves and others during a normal cold and flu season:

  • Get a flu shot
  • Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly with soap and warm water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Cover coughs and sneezes
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
  • Stay home if you are feeling sick

How should we clean work spaces if someone in our area becomes sick with flu-like symptoms?
You should follow the same infection-control practices you would use during the normal cold and flu season. To prevent the spread of illness, disinfect commonly touched hard surfaces in the workplace, including counter tops, door knobs, telephones, copy machines, work stations, and bathroom surfaces by wiping them down with a household disinfectant according to directions on the product label. Studies have shown that flu viruses do not remain infectious on environmental surfaces for more than eight hours. Frequent hand washing is the best way to avoid infection from contaminated surfaces.

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ILLNESS

What are the symptoms of influenza and how serious is it?
Symptoms of influenza include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. Some people have also reported diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting.

What should I do if I have flu symptoms?
If you have flu-like symptoms, stay home and rest. If you are an MIT student, call MIT Medical to notify them of your illness and to get advice on treatment. If you do become ill, you should avoid contact with other people except to get medical care and stay home until your temperature has remained normal for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing drugs such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

Most patients experience a moderate respiratory illness and recover completely without medical intervention. Antiviral drugs including Tamiflu and Relenza are recommended only in severe cases or in patients with medical conditions that put them at risk for serious complications from the flu.

To avoid spreading the illness to others, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health recommends that individuals who become sick with the flu should avoid close contact with other people until 24 hours after a fever has resolved and body temperature has remained normal without the use of fever-reducing drugs such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Human Resources at MIT has additional information on Institute current leave and payment policies, and the policies that will be in effect in the case of more widespread illness or another emergency.

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When should I see a medical provider?
Generally, you do not need to be seen for flu-like symptoms unless you are pregnant or have an underlying medical condition that puts you at higher risk for developing serious complications from the flu (see "Who is at higher risk for developing serious complications from influenza?"), or unless your symptoms are serious. In adults, this means:

  • difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • sudden dizziness, confusion
  • severe or persistent vomiting
  • flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough

In children, serious symptoms include:

  • fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • bluish skin color
  • not drinking enough fluids
  • not waking up or not interacting
  • not urinating, or no tears when crying
  • severe and persistent vomiting
  • flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough

Who is at higher risk for developing serious complications from flu?
The people who are at higher risk of serious complications from influenza are the same individuals who are at higher risk for developing serious complications from seasonal influenza. These include:

  • pregnant women
  • people older than 65 or younger than 2
  • people with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease
  • people whose immune systems are suppressed due to medications or medical conditions

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If a member of my family is sick with the flu, do I need to stay home from work?
No. You should stay home only if you get sick with flu-like symptoms (see "What should I do if I have flu symptoms?"). Human Resources at MIT can provide additional information on the Institute's policies regarding time off to care for a sick family member.

VACCINATIONS

How many flu vaccinations will I need for the 2013-14 flu season?
Adults will need just one vaccination. Children between 6 months and 9 years old will need two doses, spaced at least a month apart, if this is the first time they’re receiving a flu vaccination.

How do I get vaccinated against flu?
See our vaccination page to learn how to obtain a flu vaccination.

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Is the flu vaccine safe?
Every year, the seasonal flu vaccine produces mild side effects in approximately 5 to 10 percent of people (most commonly, soreness at the site of the vaccination). An extremely small number of people experience a more serious allergic reaction. In general, however, most experts believe that the risk from flu itself is greater than any potential risks from a vaccine, particularly for the most vulnerable groups. The CDC estimates that during a 30-year span (the period from 1976-1977 flu season to the 2006-2007 season), the number of flu-associated deaths in the U.S. ranged from about 3,000 to 49,000 people per season.

There are some people who should not get a flu vaccine without first consulting a physician. These include:

  • People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs
  • People who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination
  • People who developed Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) within six weeks of getting an influenza vaccine
  • Children less than six months old
  • People who have a moderate to severe illness with a fever (they should wait until they recover to get vaccinated)

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Should I get a vaccination to prevent pneumonia?
Since one of the most severe complications of influenza is the increased risk of developing bacterial pneumonia—especially with the pneumococcus bacteria—pneumococcal vaccine (Pneumovax) is recommended for some people, including:

  • Adults aged 65 or older
  • Smokers
  • People with underlying medical problems such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, and several other conditions.

For more information, see Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine: What You Need to Know (PDF).

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MIT Flu Resources

MIT Flu Central

Flu FAQ



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Check the Flu FAQ or MIT Flu Central first. If you still have questions, use the form below*:

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* This form is not intended for specific medical questions. If you or other family members are ill and have concerns about symptoms, call MIT Medical at 617-253-4481, 24 hours a day.