About Influenza (Flu)
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus. It infects the upper respiratory tract and causes symptoms such as cough, fever, headache, body aches, sore throat, and runny nose. The flu is usually self-treatable and self-diagnosable, but rapid diagnostic tests for it are available at health-care facilities. If you’re otherwise healthy, then you can expect your flu-related symptoms to resolve within several days.
What You Need to Know
Although the flu may seem commonplace, it can be quite dangerous. Getting the flu, especially if you have a compromised immune system, can lead to pneumonia, and, in extreme cases, death. In fact, nearly 50,000 US deaths are caused by the flu every year.
How It spreads
Influenza is spread through tiny droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze, or talk. Influenza can also be spread by touching surfaces that are contaminated with the virus (probably mostly by droplets, but also by hands, etc) and then touching your face. Once a person has become infected with the virus, they will be contagious for 1 day before and 7 days after symptoms appear. In other words, most people are infecting others before they even know they’re sick.
Preventing the Flu
Fortunately, receiving the flu vaccine every year reduces your risk of getting the flu by 40% to 60%. That’s why it’s so important to visit your health-care professional (HCP) and receive the vaccination every year at the beginning of September. However, because flu season can circulate as late as May, it’s really never too late to get your shot.
Even though you may never get sick, it’s important to remember that you can still be a carrier of influenza and can pass it to your family, friends, or close contacts. Receiving the influenza vaccine protects you, your loved ones, and the rest of your community.
Protect Yourself and Family From the Flu
Download this educational infographic about influenza and vaccinations.
Did you know that influenza and pneumonia
are the eighth-leading causes of death in the United States?
Who’s at Risk for Developing a Severe Case of the Flu?
- Children aged 6 months to 5 years and those not old enough to receive the vaccine (children aged <6 months)
- Pregnant women
- Adults aged at least 65 years
- Anyone with a chronic health condition, especially those with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Adults who cannot receive vaccinations
How Does the Flu Affect Children vs Adults?
- Children have a higher mortality rate from the flu than healthy adults
- Children with the flu more commonly experience vomiting and diarrhea than adults
- Children younger than 6 months are too young to receive the influenza vaccine, so they depend on adults to be vaccinated to protect them
What Do the Symptoms Look Like?
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills (but not everyone with the flu will have a fever)
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children than adults)
Examples of Flu-Related Complications
- Bacterial pneumonia
- Ear infections
- Sinus infections
- Worsening of chronic medical conditions like asthma
Ways to Protect Yourself During Flu Season
- Frequently wash your hands
- Use hand sanitizer when in public areas
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Practice good cough etiquette (cough into your sleeve, not your hand)
Get the facts about Flu Shots: Myths Busted
I Think I Have the Flu. Now What?
If you think you have the flu, then it’s important to visit an HCP. Several influenza tests are available (called “rapid influenza diagnostic tests”). The tests involve swiping the inside of your nose or the back of your throat with a swab. The results are usually available within 1 hour. If your test result is positive, then your HCP may prescribe influenza antiviral drugs to help treat—but not cure—the flu.
Treatment for the Flu
- Get plenty of rest
- Drink lots of clear fluids
- Take over-the-counter medications to control symptoms
Where Can I get More Facts?
An educational campaign on the burden of disease from flu, brought to you by the CHEST Foundation, in collaboration with Sanofi Pasteur.
Flu Match – Play the game
Click on the menu icon in the top right corner of the video for a list of additional videos.