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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 Ignore Those First Flu Symptoms

Coming Down With The Sickness

You wake up one morning feeling strangely tired. You slept ok, but somehow your body just doesn't seem rested. It feels warm - too warm. You move your hand to your forehead and let out a soft yelp - your shoulders are aching, as is your back. And sure enough, your forehead tells you that you're burning up with a fever. You try to call out for some medicine and you realize that your throat is really sore. You force a cough to try and clear up your voice, but it doesn't help at all. You notice that your nose is stuffy and you can't breathe well. On top of that, you're experiencing one of the worst headaches you've ever had.

You've gone through this before, and you realize with a start what's happening: you're coming down with the flu. Your memory races to some half-forgotten advice that about the flu that you heard years ago: get plenty of bed rest, drink lots of fluids, and take more vitamins. Still, there's that project that you need to finish. You have to do that, don't you? You drink some aspirin, some decongestant, and drive yourself to work, trying to ignore your symptoms the whole time.

You proceed to have the worst week of your life. The symptoms only get worse and worse, until finally you give up, call your doctor, and drag yourself to the hospital to pick up a prescription. After two weeks of sheer physical struggle at home, you finally get back on your feet.

The Alternative Scenario

You wake up one morning strangely tired. You know you slept just the right amount of hours, but somehow you feel listless. Sensing that the high temperature, you touch your forehead and discover a fever. In moving your hand, you also notice that you have aches all over your body. You try to speak and realize that you have a sore throat. And, as if all of that wasn't enough, you're breathing irregularly due to a nasal congestion and your head is pounding.

You realize that you're coming down with the flu, and you think back on the advice that people have given you about it during the years. There's getting plenty of bed rest, drinking tons of fluids, and taking your vitamins. Everything sounds good, especially the bed rest. God knows you need it. But wait. You realize that the flu is a very dangerous disease under certain conditions. And having had it before, you know that you don't want to experience its effects for two weeks. You pick up the phone and call your doctor.

Your doctor prescribes some medicine for you, which you dutifully buy and take for the next few days. The symptoms get worse, but after a few days they level of and start to improve. After a week at home, you're healthy enough to work. It wasn't pleasant, but at least you got through without any unnecessary struggle.

The Lesson

When you first realize that you're having the flu, that's the time to call your doctor and begin preparing for the coming battle. If you wait until the last minute, you will only be putting yourself in danger and most likely prolonging the duration of the illness. If discovered early, the flu and its symptoms can be alleviated by the appropriate medicine. So don't delay. Take action as soon as you can; it'll pay dividends in the future.

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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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