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What's True About the Flu

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What it is:  

Influenza (flu) is a contagious viral respiratory infection that typically, although not always, causes fever (100-102° F for several days), severe aches and pains, exhaustion, coughing, sore throat, congestion and a runny nose.

What it’s not: 

  • A cold: Cold symptoms are similar, such as congestion, runny nose and cough, but rarely include fever (which is very mild, if present), severe aches and pains and almost never exhaustion. Flu symptoms typically are much more intense than cold symptoms and may start more suddenly.
  • A stomach illness: Although people often say they have the “stomach flu,” there is no such thing. While vomiting and diarrhea occasionally are symptoms of the flu that are more likely in children than adults, severe gastrointestinal symptoms typically suggest a bacterial or different type of viral infection (such as norovirus), rather than the flu, particularly if they are not accompanied by classic flu symptoms.       

The flu can be serious:  

If you get the flu, stay home, get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids. Young children, seniors and others with risk factors — including asthma, pregnancy, diabetes, heart disease and lung disease — should contact a health care provider right away because they are at higher risk for serious complications from the flu, including bronchitis and pneumonia. It’s important that these people seek medical advice, because the flu increases the risk of:

  • Hospitalization;
  • Death (90% of deaths occur in people 65 or older during most flu seasons).   

The flu can be prevented:  

The flu can be prevented by getting a flu vaccine every year when it becomes available in the fall. See your provider or find a flu vaccination location near you. Annual flu vaccination is recommended as long as flu activity is ongoing. The types of vaccines available include:

  • The flu shot (including the regular shot and high-dose or adjuvanted shots for people 65 and older);
  • The nasal-spray vaccine (for healthy people 2 to 49 years old);
  • The egg-free shot for people with egg allergies.    

The flu can be treated:  

Antiviral drugs can lessen the symptoms and shorten the duration of the flu, especially if they are taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms. There are four antiviral drugs recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to treat flu: oseltamivir (Tamiflu), zanamivir (Relenza), peramivir (Rapivab) and baloxavir marboxil (Xofluza). It’s very important that flu antiviral drugs are started as soon as possible to treat patients who are hospitalized with flu, people who are very sick with flu but who do not need to be hospitalized, and people who are at higher risk of serious flu complications based on their age or health, if they develop flu symptoms. 


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