by Melissa Chichester
Every year, millions of people are affected by influenza, or “the flu.” This highly contagious virus impacts the respiratory system. Some populations are more vulnerable than others when they come into contact with the flu. In addition, it can be confusing to know the difference between the flu and the common cold. Let’s take a look at some of the most common questions people have about the flu, and how to spot the difference.
The flu is a common virus that spreads easily and irritates the nose, throat, and lungs. It occurs in two types: influenza A and influenza B. Most people associate the flu with stomach discomfort and vomiting, but these two illnesses are not the same thing.
Seasonal influenza, better known as “flu season,” typically hits its peak in the United States December through February. Flu activity tends to rise beginning in October. Although this is a common trend, it is important to note that the flu can occur all year long. For detailed, up-to-date activity on flu viruses, visit FluView by the Centers for Disease Control. FluView provides weekly surveillance on the flu, including information about geographic locations.
The flu is highly contagious. The flu virus spreads by traveling in droplets through the air. These droplets are produced when people with the virus cough, sneeze, laugh, and even talk. When another person inhales these droplets, they can become infected. Talking on the phone, touching door handles, and sharing computers are all ways the flu can spread. The flu can survive in these droplets for several hours.
It isn’t always easy to know if it is a cold or the flu, but there are some key differences. The flu comes on more abruptly and strongly than the common cold, whereas a cold tends to come on more gradually. One of the biggest identifiers of the flu is that it is usually accompanied by a fever (but not always).
Common signs of the flu include:
These symptoms can be signs of other conditions. It is always important to discuss symptoms with a healthcare practitioner.
Some populations are more vulnerable to contracting the flu, including:
An average bout with the flu may last from one to two weeks.
Yes. Flu virus strains change; therefore, you can get it again.
Finally, it is important to practice healthy prevention habits. Slowing the spread of germs by handwashing, wiping down surfaces, and staying away from infected people can help you avoid contact with the virus. You should also avoid touching your nose and mouth. Although these methods are not a guarantee, they do help. Other methods should be discussed with a healthcare practitioner who knows your personal history.