What is Influenza (Flu)?
Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness that can result in hospitalization or death. Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk of serious flu complications. There are two main types of influenza (flu) virus: Types A and B. The influenza A and B viruses that routinely spread in people (human influenza viruses) are responsible for seasonal flu epidemics each year.
The best way to prevent flu is by getting vaccinated each year.
Influenza (flu) can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Flu is different from a cold. Flu usually comes on suddenly. People who have flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:
Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
Runny or stuffy nose
Muscle or body aches
some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
*It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.
How Flu Spreads
Most experts believe that flu viruses spread mainly by tiny droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. Less often, a person might get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose or possibly their eyes.
How Many People Get Sick with Flu Every Year?
A 2018 CDC study published in Clinical Infectious Diseaseslooked at the percentage of the U.S. population who were sickened by flu using two different methods and compared the findings. Both methods had similar findings, which suggested that on average, about 8% of the U.S. population gets sick from flu each season, with a range of between 3% and 11%, depending on the season.
Who is most likely to be infected with influenza?
The same CID study found that children are most likely to get sick from flu and that people 65 and older are least likely to get sick from influenza. Median incidence values (or attack rate) by age group were 9.3% for children 0-17 years, 8.8% for adults 18-64 years, and 3.9% for adults 65 years and older. This means that children younger than 18 are more than twice as likely to develop a symptomatic flu infection than adults 65 and older.
Period of Contagiousness
You may be able to spread flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. People with flu are most contagious in the first 3-4 days after their illness begins.
Some otherwise healthy adults may be able to infect others beginning 1 day before symptoms develop and up to 5 to 7 days after becoming sick.Some people, especially young children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time.
Onset of Symptoms
The time from when a person is exposed and infected with flu to when symptoms begin is about 2 days but can range from about 1 to 4 days.
Complications of Flu
Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.
People at High Risk from Flu
Anyone can get flu (even healthy people), and serious problems related to flu can happen at any age, but some people are at high risk of developing serious flu-related complications if they get sick. This includes people 65 years and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant women, and children younger than 5 years.
Preventing Seasonal Flu
The first and most important step in preventing flu is to get a flu vaccine each year. Flu vaccine has been shown to reduce flu related illnesses and the risk of serious flu complications that can result in hospitalization or even death. CDC also recommends everyday preventive actions (like staying away from people who are sick, covering coughs and sneezes and frequent handwashing) to help slow the spread of germs that cause respiratory (nose, throat, and lungs) illnesses, like flu.
It is very difficult to distinguish flu from other viral or bacterial respiratory illnesses based on symptoms alone. There are tests available to diagnose flu. More information is available: Diagnosing Flu.
There are influenza antiviral drugs that can be used to treat flu illness.
Please go to CDC.govfor more info on influenza and flu vaccines.