Influenza (the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications. “The best way to help prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year,” says American Red Cross Chief Nurse Sharon Stanley.
2010 Flu Season
Flu seasons are unpredictable. In 2009-2010, a new and very different flu virus, H1N1, spread worldwide causing the first flu pandemic in more than 40 years. During the 2010-2011 flu season, CDC expects the 2009 H1N1 virus to cause illness again along with other influenza viruses. The 2010-2011 flu vaccine will protect against 2009 H1N1 and two other influenza viruses. The timing of flu is very unpredictable and can vary from season to season. Flu activity most commonly peaks in the U.S. in January or February. However, seasonal flu activity can occur as late as May.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine this fall. While flu is unpredictable, it’s likely that 2009 H1N1 viruses and regular seasonal viruses will cause illness in the U.S. this flu season. The 2010-2011 flu vaccine protects against three different flu viruses: an H3N2 virus, an influenza B virus and the H1N1 virus that caused so much illness last season.
Symptoms of the Flu People who have the flu often feel some or all of these 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.
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 5-7 days after becoming sick. Some people, especially children and people with weakened immune systems, might be able to infect others for an even longer time
For more information on the flu, refer to the Flu section of the CDC’s Web site. Resources are available covering a wide spectrum of topics including the flu basics, flu prevention, flu treatment, information for health professionals and free resources.