What is influenza (also called flu)?
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year.
Signs and symptoms of flu
People who have the flu often feel some or all of these signs and symptoms:
- Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (very tired)
- 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 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 also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth, eyes or possibly their nose.
Period of contagiousness
You may be able to pass on the flu to someone else before you know you are sick, as well as while you are sick. Most 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.
There are good health habits that can help prevent the flu. These are:
Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. You will help prevent others from catching your illness. Call your doctor if your symptoms last a long time or get worse over time.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick. Remember to properly dispose of your used tissues.
Wash your hands often to help protect you from germs.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or eyes, nose, or mouth.
Get adequate sleep. Lack of sleep (rest) reduces your body’s resistance to the flu.
Drink lots of water. Catching the flu becomes more likely when you’re dehydrated.
In addition to drinking water, eat five or more servings of fruits and vegetables daily – and always eat breakfast. Good nutrition is an excellent way to keep your body resistant to the flu.
Don’t smoke. Smoking lowers your body’s resistance to disease and causes damage to your lungs and respiratory system.
Exercise. Activities that increase your heart rate, such as walking, biking, and swimming are excellent ways to keep your body resistant to disease.