Questions and Answers about Influenza

As more and more central Illinoisans fall victim to the flu, it’s important to understand the nature and symptoms of the flu while taking the proper precautions to prevent the spread of infection. Below are answers to commonly asked questions about the flu. Information is provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Q: What, exactly, is “the flu”?

A: Influenza (or, “the flu”) is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The flu is different from a cold. The flu usually comes on suddenly. In the United States, on average 5 percent to 20 percent of the population gets the flu and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from seasonal flu-related complications. Flu seasons are unpredictable and can be severe.

Q: How can I prevent coming down with the flu?

There are three very important things you should do:

  • Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze
  • Wash your hands frequently, for at least 15 seconds with warm water and soap
  • Get the flu shot

Q: Does everyone need to get a flu shot?

A: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone who is at least 6 months old get a flu vaccine this season. It’s especially important for the following groups of individuals to get vaccinated:

Those at high risk for serious complications like pneumonia if they get the flu; this includes: 

-People who have certain medical conditions including asthma, diabetes and chronic lung disease;
-Pregnant women; and
-People age 65 and older.

Those who live with or care for others who are high risk of developing serious complications; this includes:

– Household contacts and caregivers of people with certain medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, and chronic lung disease.

Q: Is it too late to get the flu shot?

A: If you don’t have the flu, it’s not too late to get a flu shot! Everyone age 6 months and older should get the flu vaccine.

Q: What are flu symptoms?

A: The flu usually comes on suddenly. People who have the flu often feel some or all of these symptoms:

  • Fever* or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Vomiting and diarrhea (more common in children than adults)

* Not everyone with flu will have a fever.

Q: What should I do if I have the flu?

A: Most people with the flu have mild illness and do not need medical care or antiviral drugs. If you get sick with flu symptoms, in most cases, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care. If, however, you have symptoms of flu and are very sick or worried about your illness, contact your healthcare provider (family medical doctor, physician’s assistant, etc.).

Q: How does the flu spread?

A: People with flu can spread it to others up to about six feet away. Most experts think that flu viruses are spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might also get flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.

Q: How can I help prevent spread of the flu?

A: You can help prevent the spread of flu by following this advice:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based rub. 
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way. Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • If you are sick with flu-like illness, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
  • While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them, especially if they are vulnerable to illness. Memorial Health System is requesting that visitors to its three hospitals help prevent the spread of infection to patients and their families by limiting the number of inpatient hospital visits to two visitors per patient and limit visitors to those age 18 and older.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu.