Influenza, also known as the flu, is a viral infection that usually comes about between fall and winter. (Flu season generally peaks in January/February.) Fever, headache/body ache, coughing and sore throat are common flu symptoms, which can be relieved through medication. Another symptom is having a stuffy/runny nose.
Flu viruses can lead to mild to severe illnesses. In the most extreme cases, it can be fatal. Young children, pregnant women and the elderly are thought to be at the highest risk. People who are infected with the flu produce contaminated droplets when they cough, sneeze or talk. Influenza spreads when these droplets land in the mouths or noses of other people. Touching a contaminated surface, and then touching your mouth, eyes or nose can also lead to infection. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu can cause pneumonia, dehydration, ear infections and other serious health concerns.
Because influenza is a viral infection, antibiotics are ineffective. However, medications like pain relievers can help in managing the symptoms. Otherwise, people with the flu are advised to get plenty of rest and continuous fluids to prevent dehydration. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, other common flu treatments include sponging the body with a cool, damp washcloth, using a humidifier and gargling salt water. The CDC says that the best way to combat the flu is to prevent it, which is why getting an annual flu vaccine is highly recommended.
Flu shots protect against several strains of the virus. Once the shot is administered, it takes about two weeks for protective antibodies to develop. Given the risks associated with flu infection, experts recommend that anyone over the age of 6 months get an annual flu shot. Regular hand washing is also strongly encouraged, as this can prevent infection.