What is the flu?

Influenza (commonly known as flu) is a contagious illness of the respiratory system. Influenza viruses infect the nose, throat and lungs. It spreads mainly through respiratory droplets from one person to another when someone coughs, sneezes or talks. It can also be spread when someone touches a surface or object that has the flu virus on it and then touches their own mouth, nose or eyes.

There are two main types of flu viruses: Types A and B. These are the viruses that spread often and are responsible for the seasonal flu epidemics each year.

Because the flu is highly contagious, once infected, you may be able to spread it to other people before you know you’re sick. People are most contagious in the first three to four days after they start feeling sick. Healthy adults may be able to infect others up to one day before symptoms develop and for as long as five to seven days after becoming sick.

Young children and people with weakened immune systems might be able to infect others for longer periods of time.

How many people get sick with the flu every year?

A 2018 study by the CDC said that on average, about eight percent of the U.S. population gets sick from the flu each year. The range of people who get sick each year can be anywhere from three percent to 11 percent.

However, some people may be asymptomatic, meaning they may not feel sick and may not show any visible signs of having the flu. This can be anywhere from five percent to 20 percent of the population. The amount of symptomatic and asymptomatic people vary year to year.

What are the symptoms and complications of the flu?

Symptoms from the Flu can range from mild to severe. The flu is different from the common cold and usually comes on suddenly. Symptoms can begin anywhere from one to four days after being infected.

Flu symptoms can include:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children than adults)

Most people who get sick with the flu recover fairly quickly. However, some people may experience additional complications, some of which can be life-threatening.

Sinus and ear infections are moderate complications of the flu. The flu can also make chronic conditions even worse. Pneumonia (infection of the lungs) is a serious complication that can result from the flu, as well as inflammation of the heart, brain or muscle tissues.

Some people are at higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications. This includes those 65 years and older, people with chronic medical conditions, those who are pregnant and children younger than five years of age.

How do I prevent the seasonal flu?

In Louisiana, seasonal flu typically occurs from October to May, with peak months usually being December through March. However, the flu can still be caught and transmitted all year long.

The best and most effective way to prevent seasonal flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year. The vaccine reduces sickness and the risk of serious complications that can result in hospitalization or death.

Everyone should take everyday preventive measures to avoid contracting and spreading the flu. Good hygiene practices, like frequent handwashing and covering coughs and sneezes, help slow the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses

Is the flu vaccine safe?

Flu vaccines are safe and effective and the best way to prevent spreading seasonal flu.

CDC conducts studies each year to determine effectiveness of flu vaccines. Recent studies have shown that the flu illness is reduced by 40 to 60 percent for those who receive the vaccine.

While it’s still possible to get the flu even if you are vaccinated, your risk of hospitalization and serious complications decreases with vaccine protection. By being vaccinated, you can also help slow the spread of the virus and offer more protection to people around you, especially the elderly and immune compromised.

The flu vaccine cannot give you the flu. Most people do not experience any side effects from the vaccine, but some people may have mild effects, including:

  • Soreness at the injection site
  • Mild headache
  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue