What is flu (influenza)?
Influenza, also called the flu, is a serious and contagious respiratory illness that's caused by the influenza virus. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, sometimes leading to pneumonia, bronchitis, and ear infections. Some groups are at higher risk than others, including the elderly, young children, and people with certain health conditions.
How serious is the flu?
Each year, more than 200,000 people, primarily the elderly, are hospitalized for flu-related complications. For more info on the seasonal flu, visit http://www.cdc.gov/flu/keyfacts.htm.
What happens when I get the flu?
If you're exposed to influenza, symptoms may appear suddenly. Chills are often the first sign that you have the flu, and fever of over 100°F is very common. You may have a sore throat, dry cough, and headaches, as well as an achy feeling in your legs and back. Sometimes, the flu leaves patients feeling so ill, weak, and tired that they remain in bed for days. Be sure to check with your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.
What is the "stomach flu" and is it the same as the regular flu?
If you have heard people talk about "stomach flu," we're here to let you know that it is not the same as influenza, or a disease caused by the influenza virus. A disease commonly referred to as the stomach flu, or incorrectly as "the flu," is caused by a virus or bacteria that invade your body, and primary symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea. With influenza you may, in rare instances, experience vomiting as well, but the major difference is that influenza or the flu can lead to severe respiratory problems, primarily in the elderly, young children, pregnant women, and people with certain health conditions. These may include difficulty breathing and other symptoms associated with pneumonia (or inflammation of the lungs). Be sure to check with your doctor if you have any of these symptoms.
How do I know if it's a cold or the flu?
It can be confusing, but you may be able to tell them apart. Both have similar symptoms: sore throat, cough, and runny nose. However, children who have a common cold tend to have milder symptoms, while those who have the flu have symptoms that usually appear without warning and include body aches and fever.
When is flu season?
Surprisingly, flu season can start as early as October and continue as late as May. January and February are generally considered peak flu season—the time when most people get the flu.
Who should get the flu vaccine?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), everyone who is at least 6 months of age should get the flu vaccine every year. It’s especially important for:
Those with medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and chronic lung disease
Children under age 5
Seniors, ages 65 and older
People who live with or care for others who are at high risk of developing serious complications
How does the flu vaccine work?
The flu vaccine causes antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection. When more people get vaccinated against the flu, less flu can spread through the community. Since it takes time for the antibodies to develop, get vaccinated early. An individual can carry and spread the influenza virus for up to 48 hours before showing any symptoms of the flu.
Can the flu vaccine give me the flu?
No. Flu vaccines are made with flu vaccine viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ and are therefore not infectious. The nasal spray flu vaccine does contain live viruses. However, the viruses are weakened, and therefore cannot cause flu illness. Some side effects may occur, so if you have concerns, please consult your physician before receiving the vaccination.
What should I do if I think I have the flu?
According to the CDC, most people with the flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs. If you have flu symptoms, are very ill or are in a high-risk category (over age 65, chronically ill or have asthma), contact your healthcare provider.
What are the emergency warning signs?
Fast breathing or trouble breathing
Bluish skin color
Not drinking enough fluids
Not waking up or not interacting
Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held
Flu-like symptoms improve, but then return with fever and worse cough
Fever with a rash
In addition, get medical help right away for any infant who has any of these signs:
Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
Severe or persistent vomiting
Flu-like symptoms that improve, but then return with fever and worse cough
How can I help prevent the spread of the flu?
In addition to the flu vaccine, you should: