Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness mainly caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, depending on the person. Serious outcomes of flu infection can result in hospitalization or even death. Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at a higher risk of serious flu complications. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year.
People who have the flu often feel some or all of these signs and symptoms that usually start suddenly:
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
The flu is caused by the influenza virus and is easily spread from person to person through respiratory droplets formed when coughing or sneezing. You can become infected if you breathe in these droplets through your nose or mouth or if the droplets come into contact with your eyes. The virus can also be spread through the sharing of food or drinks. You can also catch it by touching objects contaminated with the flu virus, then touching your mouth, eyes or nose.
Period of Contagiousness
You may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you even know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Although people with the flu are most contagious in the first 3-4 days after their illness begins, people may be able to infect others beginning 1 day beforesymptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick. Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others with flu viruses for an even longer time.
Most simple seasonal influenza cases are managed symptomatically and are advised bedrest at home to minimize the risk for infecting others. Treatment focuses on reducing fever and relieving the symptoms. The diagnosis can be confirmed by taking specimens for laboratory analysis. It is important that patients monitor themselves to detect if their condition deteriorates and they require medical intervention.
Anyone can get the flu and serious problems related to the flu can happen at any age, but some people are at high risk of developing serious flu-related complications if they get sick. This includes people 65 years and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease, pregnant women, and young children.
The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones against the flu is through immunization. Many hospitals and institutions haveimmunization programs which provide free, publicly-funded vaccines to those who are eligible. There are many different strains of the flu virus. The vaccine cannot protect against all of them. Scientists monitor the global spread of flu and decide which three flu strains will likely cause the most illness during the upcoming flu season. Those three strains are put into the flu vaccine each year. So it is important to get immunized against the flu every year with no exceptions.Other precautions can be taken, including: practicing good hand hygiene, covering your nose and mouth when you cough and sneeze, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
The first and most important step in preventing flu is to get a flu vaccination each year. Everyday preventive actions like staying away from people who are sick, covering coughs and sneezes and frequent handwashing will help slow the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses, like flu.