Influenza - Flu

Flu (Influenza) is a viral infection of the respiratory system that attacks your nose, throat and lungs. Up to 20 percent of people in the U.S. get the flu each year. The flu can be serious or even deadly for young children, people 65 and older, those who are pregnant and those with certain medical conditions.

Symptoms of the flu come on suddenly and are worse than those of the common cold.

Colds rarely cause a fever or headaches. Flu almost never causes an upset stomach. And "stomach flu" isn't really flu at all, but gastroenteritis.

Preventing and Avoiding the Flu

Flu Vaccine

The main way to keep from getting the flu is to get a yearly flu vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends annual flu vaccination for everyone over the age of 6 months.

Each year's seasonal flu vaccine contains protection from the three or four influenza viruses that are expected to be the most common during that year's flu season. Although the vaccines vary in effectiveness from year to year, the benefits make it unwise to skip a year.

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Is it a cold or the flu?

Signs and Symptoms Cold Flu
Symptom onsetGradualAbrupt
ChillsUncommonFairly common
Fatigue, weaknessSometimesUsual
Chest discomfort, coughMild to moderateCommon
Stuffy noseCommonSometimes
Sore throatCommonSometimes

When to see a doctor 

Most people who get the flu can treat themselves at home and often don't need medical care; they will recover on their own. Stay home and avoid contact with others, except to get medical care if you need it.

However, if you have flu symptoms and are at risk of complications, see your doctor right away. Your health care provider may prescribe medicine to help your body fight the infection and lessen symptoms.

Taking antiviral drugs within the first 48 hours after you first notice symptoms may reduce the length of your illness and help prevent more-serious problems.

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Other measures

Because the flu vaccine isn't 100 percent effective, it's also important to take measures such as these to reduce the spread of infection:

  • Wash your hands. Frequent hand sanitizers are good ways to prevent many common infections. You should also avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Catch those coughs and sneezes. Cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough. To avoid contaminating your hands (where you can easily spread viruses to door knobs, handles and shared surfaces), cough or sneeze into a tissue or into the inside portion of your elbow.
  • Disinfect objects and surfaces. . Frequent cleaning of high touch surfaces such as light switches, doorknobs and countertops can also limit the spread of germs.
  • Stay home when sick. . If you have the flu, you should stay home—except when seeking medical care—for at least 24 hours after the fever breaks without fever-reducing medications. If you have the flu without a fever, you should stay home at least 4-5 days following the onset of symptoms.

Sources include National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the Health Blog

  • get those vaccinations

    You still need a flu shot even if you’ve already been ill

    Q: I was recently sick and I think it must have been the flu. Do I still need a flu shot? A: The short answer is yes, get vaccinated. You are among the millions who have already suffered a respiratory illness this season. We are experiencing a “tripledemic” with flu, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), causing a large number of infections and hospitalizations. RSV and about a dozen other common viruses cause flu-like illnesses in adults.