The seasonal flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. Approximately 5 to 20 percent of U.S. residents get the flu each year. The flu spreads between people and can cause mild or severe illnesses. In the most severe cases, the flu can cause death. Flu-related complications include pneumonia and dehydration. Regular illness from seasonal flu usually lasts one to two weeks. In the United States, flu season starts in the fall and winter. Seasonal flu activity peaks around January and February, though it can starts as early as October and continue into May.
According to experts, the flu is spread through a person with the flu coughs, sneezes, or talks near you and droplets containing their germs lands in your mouth or nose. However, you can also get the flu by touching a surface or other object that has the flu virus on it, and then touching your mouth, eyes, or nose. It is also important to note that certain groups are more susceptible to contracting the flu.
Vulnerable groups include:
- Seniors age 65 or older
- Children, especially those younger than 2
- People with chronic health conditions
Symptoms of the flu include fever and coughing, sore throat, runny nose, body aches, tiredness, diarrhea, and vomiting. Fortunately, there are many things you can do to prevent the flu. The most important thing anyone 6 months of age or older can do to prevent to the flu is get the flu vaccine as soon as it is available in your area. However there are also things you can do every day to stop the spread of germs and protect yourself from getting the flu, including:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, because germs spread this way
- Try to avoid close contact with people infected with the flu virus
- Practice good health habits including getting plenty of sleep and exercise, managing your stress, drinking plenty of fluids, and eating healthy food
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- If you are sick with flu-like illness, make sure you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine
There are a medications available to prevent getting the flu. If you are currently healthy but are exposed to someone infected with the flu virus, you can take antiviral drugs to prevent you from becoming ill. Antiviral medications are prescription pills, liquids,or inhalers which are used to prevent or treat flu viruses. In the United States there are four antiviral drugs for treating the flu, including Tamiflu, Relenza, Symmetrel, and Flumadine. The sooner you are treated with an antiviral, the better your chances are for not getting sick. Antiviral drugs are 70 to 90 percent effective at preventing the flu. Talk to your physician if you think you may need antiviral drugs.