The flu, or influenza, is a virus that infects the respiratory tract. There are different strains of the flu, which are continually evolving. Every year, the flu vaccine is geared toward the strain that is predicted to be the most active during flu season.
What causes the flu?
The flu is passed from person to person through the air when an infected person sneezes or coughs. The virus can live for up to 24 hours on objects such as doorknobs, pens, keyboards and other commonly touched hard surfaces.
What are flu symptoms?
While the flu is considered a respiratory disease, it can affect the entire body. Generally, people will become sick with many, if not all, of the following symptoms:
• Severe cough
• Lingering fatigue
• High fever
• Runny or stuffy nose
• Aches and pains
• Sore throat
These symptoms are also present in many other medical problems. So, always talk to a health care provider for a diagnosis.
Can the flu be prevented?
The best way to prevent the flu is to receive the flu vaccine. The Center for Disease Control recommends getting the flu shot every year as soon as it’s available.
You can prevent the flu by:
• Limiting contact with those who are ill
• Frequently washing your hands
• Covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing
Is the flu shot safe?
The flu shot is safe and closely monitored by the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration. The flu shot cannot give you the flu.
Are there certain people who shouldn’t receive the flu vaccine?
Though the flu shot is safe, there are certain people who should not be vaccinated. This includes:
• People who are allergic to eggs
• People who have had a severe reaction to the shot in the past
• People who are sick with a fever
• Babies who are 6 months old or younger
• People who have a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome
How is the flu treated?
Treatment of the flu is focused on reducing the severity of symptoms. It may include:
• Antiviral medicines to reduce the length of the flu
• Aspirin or acetaminophen to relieve aches and fever
• Increased fluid intake
For more information about influenza and the influenza vaccine, talk with a primary care provider.