What is influenza (flu)?
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat, and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death.
How does the flu spread?
Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze, or talk. These droplets can then land in the mouth or nose of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. A person might also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their eyes, nose, or mouth.
How can I protect myself and others from getting the flu?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend a three-step approach to fighting the flu: vaccination, everyday preventive actions, and the correct use of antiviral drugs (if your doctor recommends them).
Step 1: A flu vaccine is the first and most important step in protecting against the flu.
- There are many different flu viruses, but the seasonal flu vaccine protects against the three viruses that research indicates will be the most common.
- Everyone 6 months and older should get vaccinated against the flu each year.
- Children younger than 6 months of age are at high risk of serious flu illness, but are too young to be vaccinated. People who care for or live with them should be vaccinated to protect these babies.
- There is an ample supply of flu vaccine this year, so get yours today.
Step 2: Take action every day to prevent the spread of germs that cause respiratory illnesses.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based product. Hand hygiene is an important step in preventing the spread of the flu and other infections.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Germs are spread this way.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- Stay home if you are sick to avoid spreading the flu to others.
Step 3: Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.
- Not everyone needs to receive antiviral drugs when they have the flu.
- Antiviral drugs work best when started in the first two days of symptom onset for those who are sick and at increased risk of complications.
- Follow your doctor’s orders if he or she prescribes antiviral medicine.
- CDC – Weekly update on flu activity
- CDC – Key facts about influenza and flu vaccine
- CDC – Flu and You brochure
- Minnesota Department of Health – Hand hygiene