Influenza, or the flu as it’s more commonly known, is one of the top 10 causes of death in the United States when combined with pneumonia. Despite this sobering fact, many people believe the the flu is no worse than a bad cold and not a cause for concern. Although most healthy adults can recover from the flu, not everyone does. Learning about this disease is crucial to keeping yourself and your family safe and healthy.
Influenza: The Facts
- The flu is primarily a respiratory virus
- Flu season can start as early as October and last into April or May. It typically peaks in February or March
- The flu is one of the top 10 causes of death in the United States
- 90 percent of deaths from the flu occur in adults over the age of 65
- An estimated 250,000 to 500,000 people die worldwide each year from the flu
- Only 40 percent of Americans got a flu shot last year, despite the fact that it is recommended for nearly everyone
- In the 2012–2013 flu season, 90 percent of pediatric flu deaths occurred in children who had not been vaccinated
Common symptoms include
- Body and muscle aches
- Cough (usually dry)
- Fatigue or exhaustion
While vomiting and diarrhea are often thought of as the main symptoms of the flu, that’s a misconception. Although some people with influenza may experience these issues, most do not. Children are more likely than adults to experience vomiting and diarrhea when they get the flu, but will have respiratory symptoms as well.
What many people label as the flu is actually gastroenteritis, commonly called the stomach flu. Gastroenteritis can be caused by a variety of different viruses, but not influenza.
What You Can Do to Protect Yourself
The flu is no laughing matter. So what can you do to protect yourself and your family? While nothing can guarantee you will not contract the flu, there are many precautions known to decrease the chances of getting (or spreading) it.
The flu vaccine is recommended for nearly everyone six months of age and older. There are multiple options to choose from. Beyond flu shots, there are two other options: nasal spray vaccine (called FluMist) or the intradermal vaccine, which is a shot injected with a very small needle into the skin, causing far less pain than a traditional shot. The high-dose flu vaccine is available for older adults and a preservative-free option is available for those that are concerned about thimerosal or other ingredients in the traditional flu shot. Talk to your health care provider about which option is right for you.
Wash Your Hands
This seems simple, but many people don’t wash their hands often enough or correctly, so they’re spreading germs without really knowing it. To wash hands correctly, use warm water, scrub with soap for at least 20 seconds (long enough to sing the “Happy Birthday” song twice), rinse all the soap off, and dry hands completely. Don’t forget fingernails and thumbs. Thumbs are necessary for nearly everything, but often they don’t get cleaned well when just rubbing the palms together during hand washing.