What is Influenza?
Influenza (also known as 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 year.
Complications of influenza can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.
Causes of the flu
The flu is caused by influenza virus types A, B, and C. Both type A and type B flu viruses are responsible for the seasonal outbreaks of flu. Type A flu viruses are found in many different animals, including ducks, chickens, pigs, and horses. Influenza B viruses circulate widely only among humans.
Flu viruses spread mainly from person to person, through coughing or sneezing by people infected with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching a contaminated surface and then touching their mouth or nose. Healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to seven days after becoming sick. This means a person may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before ever knowing they are sick.
Symptoms of the flu include fever, headache, fatigue, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, diarrhea and vomiting (more common among children than adults).
If you develop flu-like symptoms and are concerned about your illness, especially if you are at high risk for complications of the flu, you should consult your health care provider. Those at high risk for complications include people 65 years or older, people with chronic medical conditions, pregnant women, and young children.
Preventing the flu
The most important step in flu prevention is getting vaccinated each year with a flu shot. Avoid close contact with people who are sick, stay home when you are sick, cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, wash your hands, avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, get plenty of sleep, and drink plenty of fluids. In certain situations, antiviral drugs can be used to prevent seasonal influenza.
Treating the flu
If you get the flu, there are some actions you can take at home, such as getting plenty of rest, drinking plenty of liquids, avoiding alcohol and tobacco use, and taking medication to relieve the symptoms of flu. Using aspirin or ibuprofen can also help to treat the fever, headaches and muscle aches associated with the flu. Aspirin should never be used to treat flu-like symptoms in children. Antiviral drugs may also be prescribed for treating the flu, depending upon the duration of illness, severity of symptoms, and your medical history.