The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses.
Symptoms include fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat,
runny or stuffy nose, and muscle aches. Although the term "stomach flu" is
sometimes used to describe vomiting, nausea, or diarrhea, these illnesses are
caused by other viruses or bacteria and are rarely related to influenza. In the
United States, influenza is associated with approximately 36,000 deaths and
200,000 hospitalizations each year. If diagnosed within two days of illness,
anti-viral medication may be prescribed to treat influenza (note that
antibiotics will not work as influenza is caused by a virus and antibiotics are
only useful for diseases caused by bacteria).
Everyone 6 months and older should get a flu vaccine as soon as vaccine
is available this fall. Since the virus changes each year, unlike other vaccine
preventable diseases, it is necessary to receive a new influenza vaccine each year. People at
high risk for complications include:
• Children aged 6 months to 18 years of age,
• Pregnant women,
• People 50 years of age and older, and
• People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions;
• People who live in nursing homes and other long term care facilities.
People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including
household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu (see above), household
contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age, and health care
workers should also be vaccinated.
The 2010-2011 flu vaccine will
protect against three different flu viruses: an H3N2 virus, an influenza B virus
and the H1N1 virus that caused so much illness last season.
In addition, practicing good health habits such as hand washing and covering your nose and mouth
when coughing or sneezing may also prevent the spread of influenza.
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Avian (or bird) flu is caused by influenza viruses that occur naturally among wild birds.
The risk from avian influenza is generally low to most people, because the viruses do not
usually infect humans.
Swine influenza (swine flu) is a respiratory disease of pigs caused by
type A influenza. This virus regularly leads to outbreaks of influenza
among pigs. Swine flu viruses do not normally infect humans, however, human
infections with swine flu do occur, and cases of human-to-human spread
of swine flu viruses has been documented.
Pandemic flu is human flu that causes a global outbreak, or pandemic, of serious illness.
Because there is little natural immunity, the disease can spread easily from person to person.
Currently, there is no pandemic flu.