Influenza, or the flu, is one of the most common groups of viral infections. Flu can range in severity from being nauseous for a few days to a very serious illness that can result in death. Though antiviral medications can help shorten the course of an influenza infection, the flu will generally resolve itself after a few days. Especially if you’re in a high-risk group, it’s imperative that you stay hydrated, eat nutritious food if you can hold it down and get plenty of rest. With proper symptom management, most serious complications of influenza can generally be avoided.
Definition. While influenza is widely considered to be a single disease, there are many different strains of virus that fall into the influenza group of viruses. Many other types of infections may mimic influenza, but you only have the flu if the ailment is caused by one of these viral strains. What most people refer to as “24-hour flu” is generally not an influenza virus. The flu is characterized by aching muscles, fever, chills, and moderate to severe nausea with vomiting and diarrhea.
Who is at risk. High-risk people are those who are more likely to develop serious complications as a result of infection from a strain of the influenza virus. In years of vaccination shortage, these are the people who are first in line to receive the influenza vaccine. This includes children under 5 years and adults over 65, Native Americans and Alaska natives, pregnant women and anyone with an immune deficiency. Certain medical conditions, including asthma, obesity and diabetes, also present a greater risk of influenza-related complications. Vaccination is also strongly recommended for those who live with people who fall into a high-risk group.
Flu season. Every year, influenza outbreaks occur around the same time — thus the well-known term “flu season.” The exact months that present the greatest risk of getting the flu will vary depending on your climate and location. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “Yearly flu vaccination should begin in September, or as soon as vaccine is available, and continue throughout the flu season, which can last as late as May.”