The flu is a contagious respiratory infection caused by the influenza virus. Most healthy people recover from the flu without complications. However, in an average year, the flu causes 30,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations in the United States, mostly among people 65 years or older.
People at Risk
The following people may be at risk for serious complications from the flu:
People over 65 years old
Young children under 2 years old
People with chronic medical conditions such as:
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Heart disease and stroke
Hypertension (high blood pressure)
Symptoms of the flu include:
Runny or stuffy nose
Vomiting and diarrhea can occur but are more common in children
Complications caused by the flu include:
Worsening of chronic medical conditions
How the Flu is Spread
When a person with the flu coughs or sneezes, droplets containing the influenza virus are released into the air. The droplets can be inhaled by healthy people nearby and cause infection.
Occasionally a person may become infected by touching a surface contaminated by the flu virus (door knob, faucet, etc.) and then touching their eyes, mouth or nose.
Symptoms of the flu usually occur within one to three days after a person has been exposed to the virus.
If You Get The Flu
Stay home when you are sick
You can infect others one day before getting symptoms and up to five days after getting sick. You may be spreading the flu without even realizing it.
Do not share eating utensils, drinking glasses, towels or other personal items.
Keep household surfaces clean.
Avoid using alcohol and tobacco.
General advice if you think you have the flu
If you are sick with the flu, you may be ill for a week or longer. Stay home, unless you need medical care or other necessities, so you can get better and prevent others from getting ill. Drink plenty of fluids and rest as much as possible. Avoid travel.
Do not go to work or school until at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. Your fever should be gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine like acetomenophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil).
If you leave the house to seek medical care, wear a facemask.
Wash your hands frequently with warm water and soap or use a hand sanitizer.
Cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue or your sleeve.
In general, avoid contact with other people as much as possible to keep from spreading your illness, especially those with one of the high-risk chronic conditions.
Prescription antiviral medications may provide some benefit if started within two days of the first symptoms of flu. See your doctor as soon as symptoms appear if you are interested in antiviral medication.