Influenza, or the flu, is caused by the influenza virus. Flu season starts in the fall and peaks between December to March. However, it can last as late as May. There are many different strains of the influenza virus. The most common ones are Influenza A and Influenza B.
The virus is spread through bodily fluids from an infected person who either coughs or sneezes. If the infected person touches a hard surface, the virus can linger for up to 24 hours.
The most common symptoms of the flu are fever, chills, fatigue, muscle aches, cough, and runny nose. Less common symptoms are abdominal pain, vomiting, and diarrhea. Symptoms usually start about two days after someone has been infected. People who are infected are contagious for up to 24 hours after their last fever.
Some people can develop complications such as dehydration, pneumonia, ear infections, or sinus infections. Healthy people who are infected usually improve within a few days to a couple weeks. Young children, people older than 65 years of age, and people who have a compromised immune system or chronic medical condition may need to be hospitalized if they get the flu. If a person with the infection develops difficulty breathing, chest pain, confusion, severe vomiting, and/or severe dehydration, the person should be taken to the emergency room.
People who become very sick from the flu and/or require hospitalization are usually given an antiviral medication such as oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza). These medications help to prevent complications and can lead to quicker resolution of symptoms.
If you are around a person who is sick with the flu, make sure to wash your hands after touching the person or objects near the person. Household products that contain chlorine, hydrogen peroxide, soap, antiseptics, and alcohols can be used to clean surfaces that may have the flu virus on them. The best ways to prevent getting sick from the flu virus are to get your yearly flu vaccine and to participate in good hand washing.
More information about the flu can be found on the Centers for Disease Control website: https://www.cdc.gov/flu/index.htm