It's the start of the flu season and many may have questions, like what exactly is the flu? What can I do to prevent the flu? Nahid Borogerdi, FNP-c, PhD, a Nurse Practicioner at Lourdes Vestal, answers questions about the flu and ways you can protect yourself.
The flu is "a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza virus," and it directly infects the throat, nose and lungs, according to the CDC. The flu can cause mild to severe illness and can be fatal. Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and fatigue.
Flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter, although they can be found year-around in the United States and may be more prevalent in certain regions at certain times. According to the CDC, viruses usually begin in October and peak between December and February.
The flu can affect all populations, but the highest risk of complications typically occur among pregnant women, children under five years of age, the elderly, and individuals with chronic medical conditions, according to World Health Organization. Because of their close contact with the virus, healthcare workers are also at a higher risk.
Each year the influenza virus comes in different forms, and the seasonal flu vaccine is updated to better match the flu virus that is expected to be most common. According to the CDC, the flu vaccine typically protects against several forms of the virus, and it's recommended that everyone 6 months or older receive the flu shot annually.
A number of additional precautions can be taken to ensure you avoid contracting the flu, including avoiding close contact with those who are sick and washing your hands regularly. Physicians also recommend getting plenty of sleep and covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.