Department of Public Health

Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness. Every year various strains of the seasonal flu circulate in our community causing "the flu" in tens of thousands of people.

Symptoms Risk Factors Prevention Treatment Flu Report

The Seasonal Flu

What Is It?

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.

How Is It Spread?

Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through coughing or sneezing of people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose.

What Are the Symptoms?

Symptoms of flu include: Fever (usually high), headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches. Stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, also can occur but are more common in children than adults

How Serious Is It?

With seasonal flu, we know that seasons vary in terms of timing, duration and severity. Seasonal influenza can cause mild to severe illness, and can lead to death. Each year in the United States, on average 36,000 people die from flu-related complications and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu-related causes.

Who Is At Risk?

In seasonal flu, certain people are at "high risk" of serious complications. This includes people 65 years and older, children younger than five years old, pregnant women, and people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions. This includes pregnancy, diabetes, heart disease, suppressed immune systems, asthma and kidney disease.

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Additional Information

What can I do to protect myself from getting sick from seasonal flu?

There are everyday actions that can help prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses like influenza.

  • Get your flu vaccination.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it. In the absence of a tissue, use the crook of your elbow.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. In the absence of soap and water, alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
  • Try to avoid contact with sick people.
  • If you are sick with flu-like illness, you should stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
  • Be prepared in case you get sick and need to stay home for a week or so; a supply of over-the-counter medicines, rehydrating beverages, tissues and other related items could be useful and help avoid the need to make trips out in public while you are sick and contagious.

What should I do if I get sick?

You should stay home and avoid contact with other people. You may ease symptoms with over the counter flu medicine, get plenty of rest and drink fluids. You should stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without the aid of fever reducing medicines. Staying at home means that you should not leave your home except to seek medical care. Avoid normal activities, including work, school, travel, shopping, social events, and public gatherings. If you have severe illness or you are at high risk for flu complications, contact your health care provider or seek medical care. Your health care provider will determine whether flu testing or treatment is needed.

Are there medicines to treat the flu?

Yes. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines that fight against the flu by keeping flu viruses from reproducing in your body. If you get sick, antiviral drugs can make your illness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious flu complications.

How long can an infected person spread seasonal flu to others?

People infected with seasonal flu shed virus and may be able to infect others from 1 day before getting sick to 5 to 7 days after. This can be longer in some people, especially children and people with weakened immune systems.

How long can influenza virus remain viable on objects (such as books and doorknobs)?

Studies have shown that influenza virus can survive on objects and can infect a person for 2 to 8 hours after being deposited on the surface. To prevent the spread of influenza virus it is important to keep surfaces clean by wiping them down with a household disinfectant according to directions on the product label.

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