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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.

 


When To Start Being Aware of the Upcoming Flu Seasons

While the flu season occurs at roughly the same time period every year, from approximately October to March, no two flu seasons are the same. Every year, different flu viruses circulate around the United States from the year before, requiring a new flu vaccine every year to ensure that each person is protected against the correct flu virus each year. So when should you begin being aware and getting ready for the next year's flu season? The answer is, you can take steps throughout the year to prepare yourself and your family for the flu season.

Being in good general health throughout the year is one of the best ways to prevent coming down with the flu and experiencing the complications that affect millions of Americans every year. Good general health does not happen overnight, however. You must take good care of yourself all throughout the year in order to boost your immune system so that it can fight off the flu virus.

This means that you should get enough rest every night, not just during flu season. Also, eating right-increasing your intake of fresh, vibrantly colored fruits and vegetables, drinking plenty of water, reducing the amount of fatty and fried foods in your diet-helps your body to be strong and create a strong immune system. Regular exercise has also been proven to strengthen the immune system and make you less likely to come down with the flu. These changes must happen well before the flu season begins in order to give you the best benefits during the flu season.

Also, paying attention to the news reports can help you avoid getting the flu. Listen to the experts when they appear on the news. They can help keep you informed about what strains of the flu that are expected to come to the United States each year, and will also be able to tell you how severe they expect the flu season to be. You can also find out if the flu has appeared yet in your area, since the flu must be reported to city and state health departments. News media outlets often report the first case of flu in your area, and you can use this information to increase your vigilance of hand washing, avoiding sick and ill appearing people, and making sure that your children and family does the same.

Listening to the news reports will also tell you when the influenza vaccine is available in your area, and where you may receive one. You will also find out if there is a shortage of vaccines in any given year, but thankfully, this situation is becoming very rare. Once you know that the flu shot is available in your area, you can make arrangements for you and your family to go and receive the vaccine.

Being vigilant all year round can greatly reduce your risk of getting the flu, and can also reduce the severity and duration of your illness if you do contract the virus.

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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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