Influenza (also called the flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses. Each year, about 10–20% of Americans get the flu. Almost 36,000 Americans die from flu-related complications such as pneumonia and acute respiratory disease. Particularly increased risk is known in very young children, people age 65 and older, and people who have chronic medical conditions such as asthma.

How is influenza spread?

Influenza is a contagious disease that attacks the respiratory tract (nose, throat and lungs). It is spread when an infected person sneezes or coughs. This sprays droplets into the air and onto other people. It can also be spread by touching droplets on another object or person, and then touching your own mouth or nose before washing your hands. The influenza virus can be spread one day before developing symptoms and up to seven days after getting sick.

What are the symptoms and how do you tell if its flu?

Symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, dry cough, sore throat, nasal congestion and body ache. Unfortunately, the common cold and other respiratory infections can present with symptoms similar to flu. Hence, its best to visit your doctor. Your doctor can conduct a test to determine if you have flu, provided you are tested within the first 2-3 days after your symptoms begin.

When is flu season?

In United States, flu season can last from November through March but, peak flu season months are December, January and February.

What is the treatment for flu?

Rest and drinking plenty of fluids is the best practice to follow. Over-the-counter medications for symptomatic relief may be used with caution. Antiviral medications are available to treat the flu infection. However, they are effective only if started within 48 hours of experiencing flu symptoms.

How can you prevent yourself from flu?

Getting flu shot/vaccine each fall is the BEST strategy. This is especially stressed for patients who have chronic respiratory conditions, such as asthma. The vaccination triggers the development of antibodies that fight the flu virus when the body is exposed to it. It typically takes about two weeks for sufficient antibodies to develop hence, the best time to get the flu shot is in October or November. The flu shot is approved for children as young as 6 months of age and also for people with chronic medical conditions.

Why should you get flu vaccine every year?

Flu viruses change from year to year, so getting vaccinated every year will protect you from newer viruses in subsequent years.

Can you get flu vaccine if you are allergic to eggs?

The recent studies have shown that the content of egg (ovalbumin) is very low in flu vaccines and hence, it should be safe for egg-allergic individuals to receive flu vaccine. However, those who are allergic to eggs should consult their doctor before receiving the flu vaccine. A referral to allergist and getting the flu shot in a controlled setting (for example, at an allergist’s office) may be recommended for some egg-allergic individuals.