Influenza, commonly called "the flu," is an infection of the respiratory tract caused by the influenza virus. Compared with most viral respiratory infections such as the common cold, influenza infection often causes a more severe illness. Typical influenza illness includes fever (usually 100° F to 103° F in adults and often even higher in children); respiratory symptoms such as cough, sore throat and a runny or stuffy nose; headaches, muscle aches and extreme fatigue. Although nausea, vomiting and diarrhea can sometimes accompany influenza infection, especially in children, these symptoms are rarely the primary symptoms. The term "stomach flu" is a misnomer that is sometimes used to describe gastrointestinal illnesses caused by organisms other than influenza viruses.
Most people who get the flu recover completely in one to two weeks, but some people develop serious and potentially life-threatening medical complications, such as pneumonia. Over the past decade, influenza and pneumonia have been associated with an average of 3,500 deaths a year in Illinois. During most flu seasons, which typically run from October through May, between 10 percent and 20 percent of the population is infected with influenza viruses. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications each year in the U.S.
Both the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend everyone six months of age and older receive the flu vaccine. People at high risk of serious flu complications, including young children; pregnant women; people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease; and people 65 years and older should make getting vaccinated a priority.
To reduce the spread of influenza, it is also important to practice the 3 C’s:
- Clean: Wash your hands frequently
- Cover: Cover your cough and sneeze
- Contain: Contain your germs by staying home if you are sick
Visit the IDPH Seasonal Influenza webpage for more information about the flu, symptoms, what to do if you get sick and an interactive map you can use to find a health care provider near you offering flu shots.