What is Influenza (The Flu)?
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 vaccine each year.
Symptoms of Flu
People who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:
*It’s important to note that not everyone with the flu will have a fever.
How Flu Spreads
Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or nose.
Period of Contagiousness
You may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5-7 days after becoming sick. Some people, especially children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time.
How Serious is the Flu?
Flu is unpredictable and how severe it is can vary widely from one season to the next depending on many things, including:
Certain people are at greater risk for serious complications if they get the flu. This includes older people, young children, pregnant women and people with certain health conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease).
One study found that during the 1990s, flu-related deaths ranged from an estimated 17,000 during the mildest season to 52,000 during the most severe season (36,000 average). Studies going back to 1976 have found that flu-related deaths ranged from a low of 4,700 to a high of 56,600 (average 25,500). During a regular flu season, about 90 percent of deaths occur in people 65 years and older.
During 2009-2010, a new and very different flu virus (called 2009 H1N1) spread worldwide, causing the first flu pandemic in more than 40 years. It is estimated that the 2009 H1N1 pandemic resulted in more than 12,000 flu-related deaths in the U.S. In contrast to seasonal flu, nearly 90 percent of the deaths occurred among people younger than 65 years of age.
Complications of Flu
Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.
Preventing Seasonal Flu: Get Vaccinated
The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccine each season. There are two types of flu vaccines:
About two weeks after vaccination, antibodies develop that protect against influenza virus infection. Flu vaccines will not protect against flu-like illnesses caused by non-influenza viruses.
The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the three influenza viruses that research suggests will be most common. The 2010-2011 flu vaccine will protect against 2009 H1N1, and two other influenza viruses (an H3N2 virus and an influenza B virus).
When to Get Vaccinated Against Seasonal Flu
Yearly flu vaccination should begin in September, or as soon as vaccine is available, and continue throughout the flu season which can last as late as May. This is because the timing and duration of flu seasons vary. While flu season can begin early as October, most of the time seasonal flu activity peaks in January or later.
Who Should Get Vaccinated?
On February 24, 2010 vaccine experts voted that everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine each year starting with the 2010-2011 influenza season. CDC's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) voted for "universal" flu vaccination in the U.S. to expand protection against the flu to more people. While everyone should get a flu vaccine each flu season, it’s especially important that certain people get vaccinated either because they are at high risk of having serious flu-related complications or because they live with or care for people at high risk for developing flu-related complications.
Who is at Higher Risk for Developing Flu-Related Complications?
Individuals are at higher risk if they are:
Or if they have one of the following conditions:
Who else should get vaccinated?
Other people for whom vaccination is especially important are: