With flu season here, it’s time to learn what the coming months will hold so you can prepare yourself with the resources necessary to keep you and your family healthy.
The flu – or influenza – is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that may result in severe illness and life-threatening complications.
According to the CDC, the burden of illness during the 2017-2018 season was high with an estimated 48.8 million people getting sick with the flu. The 2017-2018 influenza season was additionally atypical in that it was severe for all ages of the population.
When is flu season?
While seasonal influenza viruses occur year-round, flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter. The exact timing and duration of flu seasons vary, but influenza activity often starts to accelerate in October. Most of the time flu activity peaks between December and February and can last as late as May.
What are flu symptoms?
Flu symptoms include:
- fever, headache and fatigue
- dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose and muscle aches
- gastro-intestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, are much more common among children than adults
How does the flu spread?
Influenza viruses are spread when a person who has the flu coughs, sneezes or speaks, and spreads virus into the air allowing other people to inhale the virus. The viruses can also be spread when a person touches a surface with flu viruses on it (for example, a door handle) and then touches his or her nose or mouth. When these viruses enter the nose, throat or lungs of a person, they begin to multiply, causing symptoms of the flu.
An adult who is sick, and therefore contagious, may begin to spread the viruses starting one day prior to developing symptoms to up to seven days after getting sick. Children can be contagious for longer than seven days. Even if a person has a mild case of flu, they could still pass the virus on to friends, family and co-workers who in turn may become very sick or even die.
Who is at higher risk?
Certain people are at increased risk for serious complications from the flu. This group includes:
- people age 65 and older
- people of any age with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, COPD, heart disease diabetes and others
- pregnant women
- children younger than 5 years
How to be prepared?
The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated each year. The CDC estimates that an increase in the number of vaccines administered could save millions of people from getting the flu. Other recommendations include everyday preventive actions such as staying away from people who are sick, covering coughs and sneezes, and frequent handwashing. These actions can help to slow the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses, like the flu.
If you haven’t already, be sure to get your flu shot. There are many convenient options available from a visit to your primary care physician to attending a flu clinic in the community or hosted by your employer to stopping in at your local pharmacy. There are plenty of options, so don’t wait to protect yourself and those around you. The CDC’s flu vaccine locator makes it easy to find out where you can get immunized.