Flu season can begin as early as October and last as late as May. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) maintains an excellent web site (www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly) that tells you everything you need to know about this contagious respiratory illness.
Knowledge about the flu is especially important considering that it can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Every year in the United States, on average:
Five percent to 20 percent of the population gets the flu.
More than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications.
About 36,000 people die from flu.
Some people, including the elderly, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications. Symptoms of flu include fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, and stomach symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Flu viruses spread in respiratory droplets caused by coughing and sneezing. They usually spread from person to person, though sometimes people become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose. Most healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to five days after becoming sick. That means that you can pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick.
The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu vaccination each fall. About two weeks after vaccination, antibodies develop that protect against influenza virus infection. Flu vaccines will not protect against influenza-like illnesses caused by other viruses.
This web site includes tips about good health habits that help prevent the flu, information about how flu shots work, and reports of influenza activity as assessed by each state.
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