It’s flu season! Learn how you can prevent the flu

Sick african american girl with flu at home, ill young black woman with fever and ice bag on head, resting in bed.The National Institute on Aging shared that each winter, millions of people suffer from seasonal flu. Flu — the short name for influenza — is caused by viruses. Viruses are exceedingly small germs. Some viruses can spread easily from one person to another. They cause illnesses or infections like the flu.

Flu is a mild illness for some people. For older people, especially those who have health problems like diabetes or heart disease, the flu can be serious, even life-threatening.

How serious is the flu?

Most people who get the flu feel much better in a week or two. But some people can get extremely sick. For example, because your body is busy fighting off the flu, you might pick up a second infection. Older people are at elevated risk of these secondary infections, such as pneumonia.

How does the flu spread?

The flu is contagious — that means it spreads from person to person, often through the air. You can pass on the infection before you feel sick. You are contagious for several days after you get sick. Likewise, you can catch the flu when someone near you coughs or sneezes. Or, if you touch something the virus is on, like Ellen and Jack’s phone or doorknob, and then touch your nose or mouth, you could catch the flu. The flu virus can live on a surface like a book or a doorknob for several hours. Remember to wash your hands often when you are around someone who is sick. Make a point of washing them before eating or touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. If you can, stay away from sick people. That will help stop the flu from spreading.

Is it the flu or a cold?

It’s easy to confuse a common cold with seasonal flu. A cold is milder than the flu, but since the flu can make older people sick, you should know the difference. That way you will know when to call the doctor, who might want to give you a prescription for medicines that can help you get over the flu.

People with the flu can have a fever, chills, dry cough, general aches and pains, and a headache. They feel very tired. Sore throat, sneezing, stuffy nose, or stomach problems are less common. What some people call “stomach flu” is not influenza.

 

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