Health care providers across the United States are preparing for this year's flu virus.
The following guide provides information about what to expect from the 2021 flu season, ways to keep yourself safe and a list of state-by-state resources for more localized information.
Key influenza statistics:
- Between 36,400 and 61,200 Americans died from the flu in 2018-2019, which was down from the previous flu season.1
- 194 million to 198 million flu vaccines are being prepared for this year’s flu season.2
- Every year, the flu costs more than $10 billion in medical expenses and an additional $16 billion in lost earnings.3
- There are more than 140,000 million hospitalizations due to the flu every year since 2010 in the U.S.4
- Up to 11% of the U.S. population get the flu each year.5
This Year’s Flu Vaccine
Each year’s flu is different, and the makers of flu vaccines must adapt the makeup of each season’s vaccine to keep pace. Depending on the year, the flu vaccine is typically anywhere from 40% to 60% effective.2
Traditional flu vaccines are designed to protect against three main flu viruses: Influenza A (H1N1), Influenza A (H3N2) and Influenza B. These are known as trivalent (or three-component) vaccines.
For the 2020-2021 flu season, trivalent vaccines will be targeting the following viruses:
- A/Guangdong-Maonan/SWL1536/2019 (H1N1)pdm09-like virus (updated)
- A/Hong Kong/2671/2019 (H3N2)-like virus (updated)
- B/Washington/02/2019 (B/Victoria lineage)-like virus (updated)
Quadrivalent (four-component) vaccines include all of the above viruses along with Influenza B/Phuket/3073/2013 (Yamagata lineage) for added protection against Influenza B.
Two strains — Brisbane and Kansas — are updates from strains used in last year’s vaccine.
The 2018-2019 vaccine had an estimated 47% effective rate.6
The six most common vaccine options available for the 2020-2021 flu season include:
The standard flu shot is injected into the muscle in the upper arm.
- Fluzone High-Dose
The high-dose option is approved only for people age 65 and older.
The “Flu Vaccine with Adjuvant” is a standard-dose vaccine that contains an adjuvant to stimulate a stronger immune response. The FLUAD is licensed only for people 65 and older.
This still relatively new vaccine is developed in animal cells instead of an egg and has shown in tests to be more effective than the standard vaccine. It can also be a safer option for people with severe egg allergies.
The recombinant vaccine is developed without the use of chicken eggs and serves as an alternative vaccine option for people with severe egg allergies.
The “Live Attenuated Influenza Vaccine” is a nasal spray that is approved for non-pregnant individuals ages 2 to 49.
While considered not as effective as the shot, the spray is an option for those who can not get the shot because of a health condition or when the shot is unavailable.
There is also a flu vaccination that is available by a jet injector that has been approved by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) for people ages 18 to 64.
Instead of using a needle, a jet injector inserts the vaccine into the body using a high-pressure stream of fluid that penetrates the skin. Like the nasal spray, the jet injector is an option for those with a fear of needles that may prevent them from otherwise getting the vaccine.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends the flu shot for everyone ages 6 months and older.
If you have Guillain-Barre Syndrome or have previously had a life-threatening allergic reaction to the flu vaccine or to eggs or gelatin, notify your doctor prior to getting the vaccine.
Typically speaking, the earlier in the flu season you get the vaccination, the more effective it is.
There are a projected 194 million to 198 million doses of injectable flu vaccinations being prepared for the U.S. market for this year’s flu season.
Potential side effects of the flu vaccine include pain, swelling or redness where the shot was injected, headaches, muscle aches, fever and upset stomachs. Many people mistake these side effects of the vaccine for the flu itself.
You may use the HealthMap Vaccine Finder to locate where in your area you can get a flu vaccine.
Seniors and the Flu Vaccine
Older adults are at higher risks of developing complications from the flu virus. According to the CDC, adults over the age of 65 account for 70 to 85 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths in the United States.7
It is important for seniors with weakened immune systems to get vaccinated in order to reduce the risk of developing serious medical problems from acquiring the flu.
For health adults over 65, the CDC recommends administration of the high dose flu vaccine (Fluzone).
Medicare Part B covers one flu vaccination each year. As long as the health care provider administering the vaccination accepts Medicare assignment, you will pay nothing for it.
For those already affected by the flu, there are four medications (Rapivab, Tamiflu, Xofluza and Relenza) that are available by prescription only.
While over-the-counter flu medicines can work against flu symptoms, these three drugs are proven to more effectively shorten the severity and duration of flu symptoms.
The CDC reports that all three drugs have been shown effective against this year’s anticipated flu strains. However, the drugs are only effective if taken within two days of contacting the flu virus.
These drugs are not covered by Original Medicare but may be covered by a Medicare Advantage plan with prescription drug coverage (MA-PD) or a Medicare Part D plan.
Other Ways to Avoid the Flu
The flu is an airborne virus that can be passed in droplets of breath, but it is most commonly transmitted by the hands. In addition to getting vaccinated, you should:
- Be extra diligent about washing your hands during flu season, including before meals.
- Avoid coughing or sneezing into your hands. Instead, do it into a tissue or into the sleeve of your shirt. If you do cough or sneeze into your hands, go wash them as soon as possible.
- Avoid crowded public places that involve close physical contact with numerous other people.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Be physically active.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
The Flu vs. a Cold
The cold and the flu are both respiratory illnesses that share some common symptoms and tend to surface during the same part of the year. So it’s natural for many people to mistake one for the other.
Because the flu can lead to severe complications, passing off the flu as “just a cold” can carry some dangerous consequences. It’s therefore important to be able to recognize the difference between the two illnesses.
A cold is much milder than the flu and generally does not result in more serious health problems like pneumonia or hospitalization. Someone with a cold is more likely to have a runny or stuffed up nose, sore throat and sneezing.
The symptoms in a cold are typically much milder than those of the flu and tend to emerge more slowly.
People with the flu are more likely to have a fever, the chills, muscle and body aches, headaches and fatigue. Flu symptoms tend to emerge more quickly.
Signs and Symptoms
Onset of symptoms
Weakness or fatigue
Mild to moderate
Seasonal Fly vs. Pandemic Flu
You may be familiar with the seasonal flu, but did you know that there is a type of flu virus that can be far more dangerous and can threaten people all over the world?
Pandemic flu is the name given to an event where a new strand of the flu virus spreads quickly from person-to-person with little chance of immunity.
If a flu virus mutates and becomes a new strand of flew that people have not yet encountered, those infected will likely have no immunity to the new form of the virus, which can lead to dire consequences with swift and far-reaching consequences.
Pandemic flus occur rarely, but they have the potential to kill millions of people. The most recent case of pandemic influenza was the H1N1 pandemic virus that spread across the U.S. and the world in 2009.
According to a study published in 2012, between 151,700 and 575,400 people died worldwide from the 2009 H1N1 virus (also called "swine flu").8
What to Do With the Flu
The worst of the flu symptoms generally dissIpate within four days, and full recovery can be expected in 7-10 days.
In addition to seeking out the aforementioned medications, those with the flu should stay home from work or school and avoid being around others. Bed rest, drinking an increased amount of fluids and a light diet are also recommended.
Who is Most at Risk
While everyone is at risk for the flu, those who are at an increased risk include pregnant women, adults over 65, children younger than 5 and anyone with long-term health conditions like asthma, diabetes or cancer.
There are three situations in which the virus becomes especially deadly:
- When the flu virus co-infects the body with another germ such as strep.
- When the virus aggravates an existing condition like heart disease or asthma.
- When the virus triggers a “cytokine storm,” which is when the immune system essentially panics and issues an over-the-top response that overwhelms the body.
The Flu and Pneumonia
Among the most serious complications of the flu is pneumonia, which is a deadly infection of the lungs. Pneumonia happens when the flu virus enters your lungs, or when you develop a bacterial infection during the course of having the flu.
Symptoms of pneumonia include a cough with green or bloody mucus, increased pulse, a bluish tint on lips and nails, shortness of breath and painful breathing. Antibiotics are effective against bacterial pneumonia but not against viral pneumonia.
There are two types of vaccines available for pneumonia, one for adults and one for children.
The CDC recommends the pneumonia vaccine for children under two, healthy adults over the age of 65 and adults under 65 with certain medical conditions.
Stay Up to Date
The CDC has a number of resources available to help you stay updated about the 2019-2020 flu season.
- The Influenza Surveillance Report is updated weekly to communicate the number of reported flu cases, areas in which it is spreading, the strains that are circulating and much more.
- A table displays all flu vaccines that are approved by the FDA for use in the U.S. for the 2019-2020 flu season.
- Flu vaccine supply updates will be provided as they become available.
- The FluView provides updated information about the effectiveness of the current season’s flu vaccine.
National Influenza Prevention and Health Programs
General flu information
Find a flu shot
Our resource guides provide helpful information and assistance for a range of topics such as prescription drug costs, alcohol abuse, fall prevention, senior hunger and more.
State Influenza Prevention and Health Programs
Select your state
Alabama Department of Public Health
The RSA Tower
201 Monroe Street
Montgomery, AL 36104
Alaska Division of Public Health
3601 C Street, Suite 722
Anchorage, AK 99503
Arizona Department of Health Services
150 North 18th Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85007
Arkansas Department of Health
4815 W. Markham
Little Rock, AR 72205
California Department of Public Health
PO Box 997377
Sacramento, CA 95899-7377
Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment
4300 Cherry Creek Drive South
Denver, CO 80246
Connecticut Department of Public Health
410 Capitol Ave
Hartford, CT 06134
Delaware Division of Public Health
417 Federal Street
Jesse Cooper Building
Dover, DE 19901
District Of Columbia
District of Columbia Department of Health
899 North Capitol Street, NE
Washington, DC 20002
Florida Department of Health
4052 Bald Cypress Way
Tallahassee, FL 32399
Georgia Department of Public Health
2 Peachtree Street, NW
Atlanta, Georgia 30303-3186
Hawaii Department of Health
1250 Punchbowl Street
Honolulu, Hawaii 96813
Idaho Department of Health and Welfare
450 W State St
Boise, ID 83702
Illinois Department of Public Health
69 W. Washington Street, 35th Floor
Chicago, IL 60602
Indiana State Department of Health
2 North Meridian Street
Indianapolis, IN 46204
Iowa Department of Public Health
Lucas State Office Building
321 E. 12th Street
Des Moines, IA 50319-0075
Kansas Department of Health and Environment
1000 SW Jackson, Suite 540
Topeka, KS 66612-0461
Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services
275 E. Main St.
Frankfort, KY 40621
Louisiana Department of Health
629 N. 4th Street
Baton Rouge, LA 70802
Maine Department of Health and Human Services
221 State Street
Augusta, ME 04333
Maryland Department of Health
201 W. Preston Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services
1 Ashburton Place
Boston, MA 02108
Michigan Department of Community Health
333 S. Grand Ave
P.O. Box 30195
Lansing, Michigan 48909
Minnesota Department of Health
P.O. Box 64975
St. Paul, MN 55164-0975
Mississippi State Department of Health
570 East Woodrow Wilson Drive
Jackson, MS 39216
Missouri State Department of Health and Senior Services
PO Box 570
Jefferson City, MO 65102-0570
Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services
111 North Sanders
Helena, MT 59601-4520
Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services
301 Centennial Mall South
Nevada Division of Public and Behavioral Health
4150 Technology Way, Carson City, NV 89706
New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services
129 Pleasant Street
Concord, NH 03301-3852
New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services
PO Box 360
Trenton, NJ 08625
New Mexico Department of Health
1190 S. St. Francis Drive
Santa Fe, NM 87505
New York State Department of Health
Empire State Plaza
Albany, NY 12237
NC Department of Health and Human Services
2001 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-2000
North Dakota Department of Health
600 East Boulevard Avenue
Bismarck, N.D. 58505-0200
Ohio Department of Health
246 N. High Street
Columbus, OH 43215
Oklahoma State Department of Health
1000 NE 10th
Oklahoma City, OK 73117
Oregon Health Authority Public Health Division
800 NE Oregon St
Portland, OR 97232
Pennsylvania Department of Health
30 Kline Village
Harrisburg, PA 17104
Rhode Island Department of Health
3 Capitol Hill
Providence, RI 02908
3 Capitol Hill
South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control
2600 Bull Street
Columbia, SC 29201
South Dakota Department of Health
600 East Capitol Avenue
Pierre, SD 57501-2536
Tennessee Department of Health
710 James Robertson Pkwy
Nashville, TN 37243
Texas Department of State Health Services
PO Box 149347
Austin, Texas 78714-9347
Utah Department of Health
P.O. Box 141010
Salt Lake City, UT 84114-1010
Vermont Department of Health
108 Cherry Street
Burlington, VT 05402
Virginia Department of Health
P.O. Box 2448
Richmond, Virginia 23218-2448
Virginia Department of Health
109 Governor Street
Richmond, Virginia 23219
Washington State Department of Health
111 Israel Rd SE
Tumwater, WA 98501
West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources
East, 350 Capitol St
Charleston, WV 25301
Wisconsin Department of Health Services
1 W Wilson St
Madison, WI 53703
Wyoming Health Department
Evanston, WY 82930
1. Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Update: Influenza Activity in the United States During the 2018–19 Season and Composition of the 2019–20 Influenza Vaccine. (June 21, 2019). Retrieved from www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/68/wr/mm6824a3.htm?s_cid=mm6824a3_w.
2. CDC. Frequently Asked Influenza (Flu) Questions: 2019-2020 Season. (Dec. 29, 2020). Retrieved from www.cdc.gov/flu/season/faq-flu-season-2020-2021.htm.
3. Molinari, M. et al. The annual impact of seasonal influenza in the US: Measuring disease burden and costs. (June 28, 2007). Vaccine, 25(27), 5086-5096. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.vaccine.2007.03.046.
4. CDC. Disease Burden of Influenza. (Feb. 19, 2019). Retrieved from www.cdc.gov/flu/about/burden/index.html.
5. CDC. Key Facts About Influenza (Flu). (Sep. 13, 2019). Retrieved from www.cdc.gov/flu/about/keyfacts.htm
6. CDC. Past Seasons Vaccine Effectiveness Estimates. (Apr. 5, 2019). Retrieved from www.cdc.gov/flu/vaccines-work/past-seasons-estimates.html.
7. CDC. People 65 Years and Older & Influenza. (Feb. 12, 2019). retrieved from www.cdc.gov/flu/highrisk/65over.htm
8. Dawood, Fatimah; Iuliano, Danielle; Reed, Carrie; Meltzer, Martin; Shay, David; Po-yung, Cheng. (June 26, 2012). Estimated global mortality associated with the first 12 months of 2009 pandemic influenza A H1N1 virus circulation: a modeling study. The Lancet, 12(9), 687-695. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1473-3099(12)70121-4.