Banner Health wants to help protect you and your family from influenza (the flu). Here is the latest information on the flu, so you can keep yourself and your loved ones healthy this flu season.
The flu is a contagious respiratory (breathing) illness caused by the influenza virus. It affects the nose, throat, airways and sometimes the lungs.
The flu can range from mild to severe. In some cases, it can lead to serious complications – especially in high-risk individuals.
There are several strains of the flu virus, including influenza A, B and C. Some strains can also have different subtypes, which makes the flu virus very complex.
Different flu viruses circle the globe each year, which is why it is important to protect yourself and your loved ones by getting a flu shot every year.
Influenza A viruses are the most common and can potentially cause more severe illness. Influenza B viruses are less common but still cause significant illness. These strains aren’t broken down into subtypes but can change over time.
Influenza A and B strains are responsible for seasonal flu outbreaks. Most people catch the flu in the winter, especially between December and February in the United States.
Influenza C viruses cause milder respiratory symptoms. They aren’t seasonal, so the number of cases doesn’t change throughout the year.
The flu and the common cold are both types of upper respiratory infections, but they are not the same.
Flu symptoms often appear suddenly and may include the following:
While the flu can cause stomach upset in children, it is not stomach flu. The stomach flu (medically known as viral gastroenteritis) can be caused by several viruses and only causes stomach problems (such as diarrhea and vomiting), not breathing problems.
The flu is very contagious and usually spreads through tiny droplets that are made when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. You can catch the flu by breathing in these droplets through your nose or mouth.
You can also become infected by touching surfaces (like door handles, counters, computers and phones) that have the virus on them and then touching your face – especially your mouth, nose or eyes.
Certain people are at higher risk of getting severe complications from the flu. These groups include:
People in these high-risk groups must take extra care not to catch the flu, get their flu shot every year and see a health care provider for any flu-related symptoms.
Getting a flu shot every year is the most effective way to prevent the flu and stay healthy. The flu vaccine helps your immune system protect against that year’s most widespread flu strains, so you must get a flu shot every year. Best of all, even if you get sick with a different type of flu than the one in the shot, vaccination lowers your risk of getting very sick.
The vaccine is especially important for high-risk individuals, including young children, older adults, pregnant people and those with chronic medical conditions and/or weakened immune systems.
Most people with the flu recover within a week or two by getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of clear fluids and taking over-the-counter (OTC) medicines to help with symptoms. However, certain high-risk individuals should see a health care provider if they catch the flu.
Seek immediate care if you or a loved one experiences the following:
If you experience these symptoms, it’s very important to contact your health care provider. Learn when to seek medical care versus emergency care for the flu.
Health care providers can diagnose the flu based on your symptoms, a physical exam and/or additional tests.
Rapid influenza diagnostic tests (RIDTs) can provide results within minutes, although they may not always be correct. Sometimes, your provider may recommend a more accurate test, such as a viral culture or a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test.
Many people can manage symptoms at home by getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of clear fluids and taking OTC medicines to lower your fever or help with congestion.
Antiviral medications can help treat the flu and reduce symptoms if taken within the first 48 hours (about two days) of when symptoms start. These prescription medications can shorten how long you have the flu and help prevent complications, especially in high-risk individuals.