It’s flu season. Because the coronavirus (COVID-19) is still spreading throughout the country, this year it’s more important than ever to get the flu vaccine for an added level of protection.

Influenza (also called flu) is a virus that can cause serious illness. It’s more than just a runny nose and sore throat. The flu can make you very sick, and it can be especially harmful if you get it during or right after pregnancy.

The flu and COVID-19 are both contagious illnesses that affect the lungs and the ability to breathe but they are caused by different viruses. COVID-19 is caused by infection with a new coronavirus (called SARS-CoV-2) and flu is caused by infection with influenza viruses.

How is
COVID-19 like the flu?

Symptoms of COVID-19 and flu are
similar. Some people have COVID-19 and have no symptoms (asymptomatic) and some
people have severe symptoms of the virus.

Symptoms of both COVID-19 and flu
include:

  • Fever, feeling
    feverish or having the chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath
    or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle pain or body
    aches
  • Headache
  • Vomiting and
    diarrhea (more common in children than adults)

How is
COVID-19 different than the flu?

There are several ways that COVID-19 is
different that the flu:

  • It seems to cause
    more serious illnesses in some people.
  • It seems to spread
    more easily than flu.
  • It can take longer
    before people show symptoms of COVID-19 and people can be contagious longer.
  • People who get the
    virus may lose their sense of taste and/or smell.

Another important difference is there is
a vaccine to protect against flu. There currently is no vaccine to prevent
COVID-19. The best way to prevent infection is to avoid being exposed to the
virus.

How does
the flu spread?

Just like COVID-19, the flu spreads
easily from person to person. When someone with the flu coughs, sneezes or
speaks, the virus spreads through the air. You can get infected with the flu if
you breathe it in or if you touch something (like a door handle or a phone)
that has the flu virus on it and then touch your nose, eyes or mouth.

How can
the flu harm your pregnancy?

The flu can be dangerous during
pregnancy because pregnancy affects your immune system, heart and lungs. Health
complications from the flu, like pneumonia, can be serious and even deadly—especially
if you’re pregnant. In fact, if you’re pregnant or had a baby within the last 2
weeks, you’re more likely than other women to have serious health problems from
the flu.

When you’re pregnant, your immune system
isn’t as quick to respond to illnesses as it was before pregnancy. A lowered
immune system means you’re more likely to get sick with viruses like the flu. Another
reason the flu can be harmful during pregnancy is that your lungs need more
oxygen, especially in the second and third trimesters. Your heart is working
harder, too, during pregnancy. This stress on your body can make you more
likely to get the flu.

Pregnant women who get the flu also are more likely to have preterm labor and preterm birth. Fever from the flu may be linked to birth defects and other problems in your baby.

How does
the flu shot help protect you from the flu?

It’s very important for pregnant people
to get the flu shot. It is the best protection against getting the flu. Getting
a flu shot can help reduce your risk of getting the flu, having serious flu
complications and needing treatment in a hospital. The flu vaccine has been
shown to reduce the risk of flu-associated acute respiratory infections in
pregnant women by about 50 percent.

The flu shot contains a vaccine that
helps prevent you from getting the flu. The flu shot can’t cause the flu. There
are many different flu viruses, and they’re always changing. Each year a new
flu vaccine is made to protect against three or four flu viruses that are
likely to make people sick during the upcoming flu season. Protection from a
flu shot only lasts about a year, so it’s important to get a flu shot every
year.

It’s safe for most pregnant people to
get the flu shot. Millions of pregnant people have safely received the vaccine over
many years. Flu shots given during pregnancy help protect both you and your baby
from the flu. In fact, the vaccine can protect your baby from the flu for the
first several months after they are born.

Pregnant people should get a flu shot,
not the nasal spray flu vaccine. Tell your health care provider if you have any
severe allergies or if you’ve ever had a severe allergic reaction to a flu
shot. Severe allergic reactions to flu shots are rare.

Where can
you get a flu shot?

There are several ways to get the flu
shot:

  • From your health
    care provider
  • From your local
    pharmacy
  • At your workplace
    (if offered)

Use the Vaccine Finder to find out where you can get the flu vaccine.