Influenza (Flu)

Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. People get sick from seasonal flu viruses every year. Flu can cause illness ranging from mild to severe and in some cases can lead to hospitalization and even death. Most people who get the flu will have a fever plus a cough or a fever plus a sore throat. Other symptoms may include a runny or stuffy nose, body aches, a headache, chills, fatigue, vomiting, and diarrhea. (more)

What you should do to avoid the flu

Get vaccinated

Flu vaccine is safe and it is the best defense against the flu. Get your flu vaccine at your doctor's office, at a community clinic, or at a pharmacy. (Not all pharmacies vaccinate children. Call ahead before bringing your child to be vaccinated at a pharmacy.) Seasonal flu vaccination should begin as soon as vaccine is available, which is usually by October.

In March 2010, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended annual flu vaccination for people 6 months of age and older. It is especially important for people in the following groups to be vaccinated:

Practice good health habits

Flu viruses spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes near another person. They may also spread when people touch something covered with infected droplets and then touch their eyes, mouth, or nose.

  • Wash your hands often throughout the day. Use warm water and soap. If soap and water are not available, use alcohol-based hand gel. (more)
  • Cough or sneeze into your elbow. Flu is spread through coughing or sneezing on other people or into your hands. Cover your coughs and sneezes to prevent others from getting sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious foods.

Keep it Clean

Flu viruses can live outside the body for up to two hours. These germs spread when someone sneezes or coughs and touches something that contaminates a surface. You can prevent or contain the spread of these germs by:

  • Keeping surfaces (especially bedside tables, surfaces in the bathroom, and toys for children) clean by wiping them down with a household disinfectant.
  • Throw away tissues and other items used by sick people. Wash your hands after touching used tissues or other trash.
  • Linens, eating utensils, and dishes belonging to those who are sick do not need to be cleaned separately. These items should not be shared without being washed thoroughly.
  • Wash linens (bed sheets and towels) in regular laundry detergent. Dry them on the hottest setting the fabric can tolerate. Clean your hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand gel after handling dirty laundry.

What you should do if you think you have the flu

  • Stay home if you are sick. If you have flu-like symptoms (fever plus a cough or fever plus a sore throat), stay home from work, school, or child care until you have been fever-free (temperature less than 100.4 degrees F/38 degrees C) for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medications.
  • Rest, drink plenty of fluids, and avoid using alcohol, caffeine, and tobacco.
  • Consider using over-the-counter medicines such as Tylenol, ibuprofen, or aspirin to relieve symptoms. Children younger than 19 years old should not be given aspirin to treat the flu.
  • Check with your healthcare provider about any special care you might need if you are pregnant or have an underlying health condition.
  • Tell you doctor if you've had flu-like symptoms or felt ill after returning from destinations with health travel advisories.
  • Consider antiviral medications. Antivirals are prescription medicines used to treat the flu when people are very sick or at high risk of flu-related complications. In order to work, they must be started within 2 days after getting sick. During a pandemic, antivirals may be prioritized for people at high risk of serious flu complications. (more)

When to Seek Medical Care

Most people who get the flu will have mild illness and will recover without needing medical care or antiviral drugs. However, children younger than five years old have a high risk of complications like ear infections and pneumonia from the flu. Infants and young children with flu may have fever and seem very tired, but may not have cough or other symptoms. Do not give children younger than 19 years old aspirin to treat the flu.

Consider calling your doctor for advice if you get sick with flu-like symptoms and are at high risk for flu-related complications or if you have any questions or concerns about your illness. Your doctor can advise you over the phone if you need to come in for an appointment or start taking antiviral drugs. People who do not need to be seen by a doctor can be treated for the flu at home.

Emergency Warning Signs

Seek emergency medical attention immediately if you have any of the following signs or symptoms.

Children

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing;
  • Bluish color on skin or around mouth and lips;
  • Dehydration (no tears, dried lips and mouth, not drinking enough fluids);
  • Not waking up or not interacting;
  • Being so irritable that the child does not want to be held;
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and a worse cough;
  • Fever with a rash.

Adults

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath;
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen;
  • Sudden dizziness;
  • Confusion;
  • Severe or persistent vomiting.