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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.


Three Reasons Why You Should Fear The Flu

The First Reason: It Can Make You Really, Really Sick

Once you catch the flu, you will experience a whole host of decidedly unpleasant symptoms. These may include an aching body, a dry cough, sore throat, feelings of extreme coldness, sensations of fatigue, a high fever, persistent headaches, light-headedness, watery eyes, reddened eyes and skin (especially the face area), a runny nose, a stuffed nose (nasal congestion), sore joints, loss of smell, nausea, diarrhea, persistent sneezing, and vomiting.

All of these symptoms can interfere in a person's daily functions. In effect, it can incapacitate an individual from his or her work and studies. This leads to a loss of millions of hours of productive work each year. So if you are the family breadwinner or a student, you should take the necessary precautions against the flu.

The Second Reason: It's Mutating

The influenza virus is constantly changing, or mutating. That means that the virus usually becomes resistant to prevailing and current forms of medication against it. In fact, the virus seems to change just about every year, and accordingly vaccines against the virus are also changed annually.

Because the virus is in a constant state of mutation, it is entirely possible that one of these days it will change into a form that present science cannot deal with. The Avian Flu, also known as the Bird Flu, for instance, is the most feared strain of influenza today, not only because of its deadly effects, but also because it has the potential to mutate into an airborne virus. Once that happens, preventing the spread of Bird Flu will become very difficult, and most experts predict that we will likely see tens of millions infected with it.

The Third Reason: It Can Kill You

Yes, the flu can kill you. It may not be so obvious now, especially because of the advances of modern medicine, but the flu has killed millions of people, and still has the potential to. For instance, in the so-called Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918-20, about 500 million people became infected with the virus, and around 40 million people died. That's more people than the First World War. And while World War I took many years to accumulate its casualties, the flu outbreak claimed its victims in just two short years.

As modern medicine has continued to improve, the number of people who die from the flu and its outbreaks has continued to decrease. The Asian Flu Pandemic of 1957-1958 killed about one and a half million people, and the 1968-69 Hong Kong Flu Pandemic killed about a million. There hasn't been a major flu pandemic in almost forty years, but that can quickly change.

What Must Be Done

While the flu is something to be scared of, it is also something that can be guarded against. Simple steps like stopping the spread of germs through washing your hands or covering your nose when you sneeze can go a long way in stopping the spread of the disease. Also, by getting a flu shot each year, you will drastically reduce the risks of contracting the illness.

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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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