The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus that infects the nose, throat, and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. On average, tens of thousands of people die each year in the U.S. and hundreds of thousands die worldwide. With this knowledge, it makes sense to take some time to learn more about the flu.
One of the most important ways to prevent the spread of the flu is proper hand hygiene. Hand washing for at least 20 seconds with soap and warm water is an effective way to kill germs and minimize the spread of disease. Hand sanitizers are an effective alternative when soap and water are not available.
The flu vaccine is another important preventative measure to reduce your risk of catching the flu. The flu vaccine is available as an injection or can be administered as a nasal spray. There are two types of flu vaccines:
- “Flu shots” — the regular seasonal flu shot is usually injected into the upper arm. It has been approved for use in people 6 months of age and older, including healthy people, people with chronic medical conditions and pregnant women.
- The nasal-spray flu vaccine — a vaccine made with a weakened flu virus which is given as a nasal spray. The nasal spray vaccine is approved for use in healthy people 2 to 49 years of age who are not pregnant.
How It’s Spread
When a person who has the flu coughs or sneezes, the flu virus becomes airborne and can be inhaled by anyone who is nearby. You can also get the flu if you’ve touched a contaminated surface such as a doorknob or railing. Washing your hands regularly and covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze are two good ways to prevent spreading the flu to others.
The flu can sometimes closely resemble the common cold; however, most cases of the flu are more severe than those of the common cold. Also, flu symptoms tend to occur suddenly and include high fevers. The symptoms can consist of cough, muscle aches, sore throat, fatigue and headache. If you are experiencing these symptoms, contact your primary care physician.
What to Do If You Get the Flu
Stay Home! If you get the flu, make sure you get sufficient rest, drink plenty of fluids and limit your physical activity. There are several over the counter and prescription drugs that can lessen the severity of flu symptoms. Always be sure to check with your physician before taking any medications.
For more information about the flu, its prevention and treatment: