Influenza, also known as the flu, is a contagious viral infection that appears seasonally. It spreads from person to person and can cause mild to severe symptoms. The flu affects the nose, throat and lungs and symptoms may include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, and fatigue. For some people, the flu can lead to serious complications, and possibly even death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), up to 20 percent of Americans gets the flu each year, and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized annually from flu-related complications. Young children, older adults and people with chronic diseases or weakened immune systems are at a higher risk for infection.
Symptoms of the Flu
Initial flu symptoms are similar to the common cold, but are often more severe and may include:
- High fever
- Chills and sweats
- Fatigue and weakness
- Body aches
People with the flu may also experience nasal congestion and sore throat.
Complications of the Flu
Most people recover from the flu with no lasting effects. However, complications may develop, especially in very young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems. Complications include:
- Sinus infections
- Asthma attacks
- Ear infections
People with chronic medical conditions including diabetes, asthma, congestive heart failure, or lung disease have a greater risk of developing complications from the flu.
Treatment of the Flu
The flu is commonly treated with bed rest and increased fluids, and most people recover from the flu without medical care. In some cases, antiviral medication such as Tamiflu or Relenza may be prescribed. These medications may help to shorten the length of the illness and help prevent serious complications from occurring.
Prevention of the Flu
The influenza vaccine is recommended annually for adults and children 6 months and older. In addition to protecting individuals, when healthy people get vaccinated, it helps to decrease the spread of flu and protect people who are at high risk of serious complications from the flu. In addition to the flu shot, other recommendations to prevent the spread of the flu include:
- Wash hands frequently
- Avoid touching mucous membranes - eyes, nose, mouth
- Avoid close contact with sick people
- Cover the mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing
In addition, people are advised to stay home from work, school, or other activities when they are sick, to alleviate the spread of germs.