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What is Influenza (also called Flu)?

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccination each fall.

Every year in the United States, on average:

  • 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu;
  • more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications, and;
  • about 36,000 people die from flu.

Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications.

Symptoms of Flu

Symptoms of flu include:

  • fever (usually high)
  • headache
  • extreme tiredness
  • dry cough
  • sore throat
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • muscle aches
  • Stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, also can occur but are more common in children than adults


Complications of Flu

Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.


Is the Flu Limited To Specific Months of The Year?

Influenza, or simply the flu, is a term used to describe a viral infection that produces symptoms of muscle ache, persistent headaches, high fever, sore throat, or a runny/stuffed nose. Flu can also cause respiratory problems to surface. It is a deadly sickness that kills hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. In fact, it kills around 36,000 each year in the United States alone.

Because it is a viral infection, the flu can spread in a number of ways, and most especially through the secretions of an infected individual. Saliva and mucus are particularly dangerous. Thus, when infected with the virus, a patient must avoid contact with other people who do not have the sickness. Conversely, otherwise healthy people should be wary of approaching a flu patient.

Flu Season and Vaccines

Incidences of influenza peak between the months of November and April, coinciding with the winter season. This period is known in the United States as the "flu season", and a large majority of flu cases will surface during this period. Because of the onset of the snow and the resulting low temperatures, many people suffer a loss in their powers of resistance. This leads to a number of flu infections; and these infections in turn lead to more infections. Eventually, a sizable portion of the population will be exposed to the flu virus and many will succumb under its effects.

Fortunately, there is a way to counteract the risks that flu season brings, and that is to be adequately prepared. To be prepared simply means to have a flu shot. Whether you choose the one administered through a needle or the nasal-spray variety, the important thing is that you have the vaccine administered to you. Flu vaccines are the single best method of bringing down the occurrence of flu, as well as its potency.

The best time to get a vaccination from the flu is before the flu season begins. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to become active against the flu virus, so you should aim to get your annual flu shot within a reasonable amount of time before November. Of course, if you fail to accomplish this don't hesitate to get your vaccination during the midst of the flu season itself. As the cliché' goes, better late than never.

Is The Flu Limited To Specific Months?

The answer, of course, is no. While flu viruses are more active during the flu season of November to December, there are by no means inactive during the other times of the year. The only difference is the number of viruses circulating around the general population. With less people carrying the virus around, there is a smaller chance of people getting infected. Plus, the normal state of most people's immune systems during the rest of the year prevents the virus from multiplying. Still, it pays to be careful even when it doesn't seem like the flu viruses are active. With good health habits, combating the flu and its negative effects will be easier.

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Who Should Get Vaccinated?

In general, anyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting the flu can get vaccinated. However, certain people should get vaccinated each year either because they are at high risk of having serious flu-related complications or because they live with or care for high risk persons. During flu seasons when vaccine supplies are limited or delayed, ACIP makes recommendations regarding priority groups for vaccination.

People who should get vaccinated each year are:

1. People at high risk for complications from the flu, including:

  • Children aged 6–59 months of age,
  • Pregnant women,
  • People 50 years of age and older,
  • People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions, and
  • People who live in nursing homes and other long term care facilities.

2. People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including:

  • Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu (see above)
  • Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated)
  • Health care workers.

3. Anyone who wants to decrease their risk of influenza.


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