Seasonal Influenza

 About Influenza (Flu)

Influenza (flu) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness. Serious outcomes of flu infection can result in hospitalization or death. Some people, such as older people, young children, pregnant women, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk of serious flu complications.

Tips to Prevent Flu

The best way to prevent seasonal flu is to get the flu vaccine. A flu vaccine protects against the viruses that research suggests will be most common. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends that all people over age 6 months get the flu vaccine every year.

Other important steps people can take to protect themselves and others from flu include:

  • Avoiding close contact with sick people
  • Limiting contact with others as much as possible if you are sick to keep from infecting them and stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone without the use of fever-reducing medicine, except to get medical care or for other necessities
  • Covering your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze and dispose of the tissue immediately after use
  • Washing your hands often with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are not available
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth
  • Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu
Flu Symptoms

Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the flu virus. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The flu usually comes on suddenly. People who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills (not everyone with flu will have a fever)
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea – this is more common in children than adults

Most people who get the flu will recover in a few days to less than two weeks, but some people may develop complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections as a result of the flu. Some of these complications can be life-threatening.

Emergency Warning Signs of Flu Sickness

Anyone can get the flu – even healthy people – and serious problems related to the flu can happen at any age. Be aware of emergency warning signs of flu sickness.

In children:

  • Fast breathing or difficulty breathing
  • Bluish skin color
  • Not drinking enough fluids
  • Not waking up or not interacting
  • Being so irritable that the child doesn’t want to be held
  • Flu-like symptoms improve but then return with fever and worse cough
  • Fever with a rash

In adults:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough

In infants:

In addition to the signs above, get medical help for any infant who has any of these signs:

  • Being unable to eat
  • Has trouble breathing
  • Has no tears when crying
  • Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal

If you get sick with flu symptoms and are at high risk of flu complications or you are concerned about your illness, call your health care provider for advice.

Flu Treatment

If you get the flu, antiviral drugs may be a treatment option. Check with your doctor promptly if you are at high risk of serious flu complications and you get flu symptoms – the benefit of antiviral treatment is greatest if treatment is started within 2 days after illness onset. Antiviral drugs can lessen symptoms and shorten the time you are sick by 1 or 2 days. They can also prevent serious flu complications, like pneumonia.

Most people with the flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs. If you get sick with flu symptoms, you should stay away from others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.  If you must leave home, for example to get medical care, wear a facemask if you have one, or cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue. Wash your hands often to keep from spreading flu to others.

The CDC recommends that you stay home from work, school, travel, shopping, social events and public gatherings for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, without the use of fever-reducing medicine.

Additional Resources

  1. Health overview of flu facts, the Maryland 2017-2018 Influenza Plan, and other flu-related resources.
  2. Maryland Department of Health Influenza Surveillance 
  3. CDC information about influenza, including prevention recommendations and other facts
  4. CDC flu activity and surveillance