The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define influenza, commonly called the flu, as a "contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs." The flu causes mild to severe illness in most people, but sometimes can be deadly.
Knowing these facts about flu prevention, symptoms, treatment and more can give you an edge in fighting this seasonal ailment:
- The CDC lists fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches, headaches and fatigue as typical flu symptoms. Vomiting and diarrhea are not as common and are more likely in young children than adults
- The flu virus is spread by droplets made airborne when people with the virus cough, sneeze or talk. When these droplets land in the nose or mouth of someone nearby, the flu is spread. In rare cases, you can pick up the virus by touching an object that someone with the flu has touched and then touching your nose, eyes or mouth.
- The CDC recommends everyone receive an annual flu vaccination as soon as the vaccine is available, usually beginning in September. Flu season generally peaks during the winter months, but it can last as late as May.
- The best way to prevent catching the flu is to not be around someone who has it. Frequent hand washing may help prevent it, too.
- High-risk populations include the elderly, children younger than age 5, those with asthma, pregnant women, and people who are morbidly obese or have chronic conditions.
- Vaccination is especially important for people who live in nursing homes, work in the health care industry or are around young children.
- Not all influenza vaccines are the same. Consult a health care professional to find out which one might be best for you and your family.
- If you have the flu, take precautions to avoid passing it along. Precautions include washing your hands, containing your coughs and sneezes, and avoiding crowds.
- According to PBS, the 1918 flu epidemic killed 675,000 Americans and more than 20 million people worldwide. The much publicized H1N1 flu outbreak in 2009 led to between 8,000 and 16,000 deaths worldwide.
Although there's no way to totally eliminate your chances of contracting influenza, there are ways to reduce the risk.