Influenza, or flu, is an easily spread respiratory tract infection. It is caused by a virus. About 5% to 20% of people in the U.S. get the flu each year. The flu usually starts abruptly, with fever, muscle aches, sore throat, and a cough.
The flu can make people of any age ill. Although most people are ill with the flu for only a few days, some have a much more serious illness and may need to go to the hospital. The flu can also lead to pneumonia and death.
The flu viruses continually change (mutate).Currently, three different influenza viruses circulate worldwide. Vaccines given each year to protect against the flu fight the flu virus strain expected to cause the illness that year.
The flu is caused by a virus. Viruses are generally passed from person to person through the air when an infected person sneezes or coughs.
But the virus can also live for a short time on objects like doorknobs, pens, pencils, keyboards, telephone receivers, and eating or drinking utensils. So you can also get the flu by touching something that has been recently handled by someone infected with the virus and then touching your own mouth, nose, or eyes.
Each person may experience symptoms differently. The flu is called a respiratory disease, but the whole body seems to suffer. People usually become very ill with several, or all, of the following symptoms:
Fever and body aches usually last for 3 to 5 days, but cough and fatigue may last for 2 weeks or more.
The symptoms of the flu may look like other medical conditions. Always consult your health care provider for a diagnosis.
The flu is diagnosed based on your symptoms. Lab tests may be used to confirm the diagnosis if necessary.
Specific treatment for the flu will be determined by your health care provider based on:
The goal of treatment for the flu is to help prevent or decrease the severity of symptoms. Treatment may include:
Consult your health care provider for more information.
The most common complication of the flu is pneumonia. It can also cause serious muscle and central nervous system complications. Of those who get the flu, between 3,000 and 49,000 will die from it or from complications. Most of these deaths occur in people over 65.
A new flu vaccine is made each fall. Everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine each season It is usually recommended for specific groups of people, as well as for anyone who wants to avoid having the flu.
The flu vaccine is safe. The CDC and the FDA closely watch vaccine safety, and hundreds of millions of flu vaccines have been safely given across the country for decades.
The flu vaccine can't give you the flu. The most common side effects from a flu shot are soreness where the shot was given and maybe a low fever or achiness. The nasal spray flu vaccine might cause congestion, runny nose, sore throat, or cough. If you do have them at all, these side effects are usually mild and short-lived.
The effectiveness of the vaccine varies from one person to another, depending on factors such as age and overall health.
A nasal spray flu vaccine is currently approved to prevent flu in healthy children and teens ages 2 to 17, and healthy adults ages 18 to 49. As with other live virus vaccines, the nasal spray vaccine should not be given for any reason to pregnant women or people with weak immune systems. This includes those with immune deficiency diseases, such as AIDS or cancer, or people who are being treated with medications that weaken the immune system. The nasal spray vaccine also should not be given to these groups of people:
Following these precautions may also be helpful:
The flu causes complications that may develop into a more serious disease or become dangerous to some groups, such as older adults and those with chronic medical conditions. For these reasons, the CDC recommends that the following groups get a vaccine each year. Always consult your health care provider for more information regarding who should receive the flu vaccine:
Although the flu immunization is safe, some people should NOT be vaccinated. These include:
The CDC recommends getting the flu shot every year, as soon as it becomes available in your community. Flu season can begin as early as October and most commonly peaks in the U.S. in January or February, but flu seasons are unpredictable. The flu shot takes 1 to 2 weeks to become effective.
For most people, the flu can be treated at home without treatment from your health care provider. However, if your condition or situation makes you more susceptible to complications from the flu, tell your health care provider when you suspect you have the flu. If your symptoms get worse or you have new symptoms, let your health care provider know.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your health care provider:
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