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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.

 


Why You Shouldn't Fear the Flu

Millions of people have died from the flu in the past. Years ago, there was no way to prevent the spread of flu, such as a flu shot. In addition, there was not much to do when you did get the flu. In fact, with there being very few innovative medical advances, people were almost doomed to die when they were struck with influenza. However, today things are much different. Sure, the flu is an extremely dangerous virus that should be taken very seriously. However, there is not as much need to fear it like there once was. Take a look at why you shouldn't fear the flu like your great grandparents did.


Medical Advancements


The biggest reason you should not fear the flu terribly is because of the medical advancements the human race has at their disposal. Years ago many people died from pneumonia and other secondary illnesses that occurred with the flu. However, today there is less risk of people dying from those secondary illnesses because there are ways to treat those illnesses. If you get pneumonia, you can be treated for it, in most cases. The only exceptions are usually with patients who have other underlying medical conditions or are elderly. The medical field has given humans a reason to feel better about the flu, if that is possible at all.


Flu Shots


Another reason you shouldn't fear the flu is because there is a way to prevent it. Years ago there was no way to predict the strains of the flu that would be entering the population. In fact, there was no really effective way to prevent the flu at all. However, today there are many ways you can prevent getting the flu, including getting a flu shot. There are thousands of scientists and researchers that focus on developing the flu shot each year. They target what they think will be the dangerous strain of flu and create immunizations to help protect everyone from these. Although they are not 100% effective, they are quite effective in preventing the flu, or making those who take it less likely to have a bad case of the flu.


Better Health


Lastly, people today are in overall better health and better physically prepared to take on the flu than ever before. In fact, your great grandparents might not have lived to be 60 years old, while people today are living to be well into their 80s and 90s. So, that is something to think about as well. People are taking care of themselves more. They are choosing to eat well balanced diets and make exercise a priority in their lives. When you are healthy, the flu doesn't get you down as much as when you are not healthy. A healthy person might be able to bounce right back after recovering from the flu and their overall recovery time might be much less than someone else's. However, someone with an impaired immune system might not be able to fight off the flu as well.

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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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