Influenza (the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness and death. Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications and death.
In 2009-2010, a new strain of flu virus (called 2009 H1N1) spread worldwide, causing the first flu pandemic in more than 40 years. The 2009 H1N1 virus is now just one of the common seasonal influenza virus strains. Now that most of the population has been exposed to 2009 H1N1, it behaves nearly the same as other flu viruses. The flu vaccine will protect against 2009 H1N1 and two or three other influenza virus strains.
The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year. Flu shots are 70-90% effective in healthy adults. The flu shot cannot give you the flu, because it is made from killed (inactivated) flu viruses. The vaccine is recommended for everyone six months of age or older. Nasal spray flu vaccine is not recommended this year, because it was found to be quite ineffective in recent years.
In an average year in the United States:
- 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu;
- more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications,
- 36,000 people die from flu.
Symptoms of Flu
- fever (often high, usually with very sudden onset),
- extreme tiredness,
- dry cough,
- sore throat,
- runny or stuffy nose, and
- muscle aches.
- gastro-intestinal symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, are fairly common among children but uncommon in adults.
Flu Prevention Tips
Influenza spreads mainly person-to-person, through coughing or sneezing of infected people.
Take everyday actions to stay healthy and use common sense:
- Cover your cough by coughing into your elbow or sleeve or use a tissue. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread that way.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people. Droplets from a cough or sneeze move up to 6 feet through the air. Some viruses can live up to 24 hours or longer on surfaces such as counters, tables, and door handles.
- Stay home from work or school if you get sick. Limit contact with others to keep from infecting them.
- Got travel plans and have the flu? Do not travel if you have flu symptoms.
- There is currently no need to avoid public gatherings, public transit or school, or for healthy persons to wear masks.
- Develop a family emergency plan as a precaution. This should include storing a supply of food, medicines, facemasks, alcohol-based hand rubs and other essential supplies.
- Stay informed. This website will be updated regularly as information becomes available.
Seeking Medical Care?
- People with mild illness should NOT go to emergency rooms, urgent care or hospitals for treatment. Keep emergency rooms and hospitals free to treat serious illnesses.
- Stay at Home Toolkit for Influenza
- Please do not request antiviral medication for routine illnesses. Providers will prescribe treatments based on symptoms and possible exposure.
- If you have flu-like symptoms call your health care provider and let them know of any possible exposure. Wear a mask before you enter your provider’s office. Your health care provider will make an assessment and decide if you need a test. Laboratory testing is recommended for people with severe flu-like symptoms.