The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccination each year. Some people with certain health conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), are at higher risk for serious flu complications.
Symptoms of Flu
Symptoms of flu include sudden onset of: fever (usually high), body aches, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose. Stomach symptoms such as nausea and vomiting can also occur but are less common.
Complications of Flu
Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, or diabetes.
How Flu Spreads
Flu viruses spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing of people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose. A person who is ill with the flu may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 days after becoming sick.
Good Health Habits for Prevention
The single best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get vaccinated each year, but good health habits like covering your cough and washing your hands often can help prevent respiratory illnesses like the flu. There also are flu antiviral drugs that can be used to treat and prevent the flu.
Use of Antiviral Drugs for Treatment
For treatment, influenza antiviral drugs should be started within 2 days after becoming sick and taken for 5 days. When used this way, these drugs can reduce flu symptoms and shorten the time you are sick by 1 or 2 days. They also may make you less contagious to other people.
Use of Antiviral Drugs for Prevention
Influenza antiviral drugs can also be used to prevent influenza when they are given to a person who is not ill, but who has been or may be near a person with influenza. When used to prevent the flu, antiviral drugs are about 70% to 90% effective. It’s important to remember that flu antiviral drugs are not a substitute for getting a flu vaccine. A flu vaccine may be recommended at the same time that you are given the antiviral drugs.