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Globally, five to 10 percent of the adult population and 20 to 25 percent of children suffer from influenza, or the flu, each year.1 Find out how to help protect your family from the flu, what you can do to help prevent it from spreading and how to treat the symptoms if you or a loved one gets it.

The flu is caused by a frequently changing virus, with new strains appearing regularly. The virus spreads through the air when an infected person sneezes, coughs or talks. You can also catch the flu by touching a contaminated surface, such as a door handle or a phone, and then transferring the virus to your mouth, nose or eyes.2

In tropical countries, such as India, flu epidemics may strike throughout the year, causing irregular outbreaks. While in temperate climates, seasonal epidemics occur primarily in the winter.1

Because the flu and the common cold share similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell them apart. Typically, flu symptoms are more severe and develop more suddenly than if you have a cold. Common flu symptoms include:2

  • Sudden onset of high fever over 1000F (380C)
  • Body aches, especially in your back, arms and legs
  • Headache
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Chills and sweats
  • Dry cough
  • Sore throat
  • Nasal congestion

Most young and healthy people recover from the flu in about a week without needing medical attention.1 However, some people are at higher risk of catching the flu or developing complications, such as pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections or ear infections. High-risk groups include:2

  • Young children and adults over 65
  • Pregnant women
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • Individuals with chronic illnesses, such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes

People in these high-risk groups should be extra careful when any member of the family has the flu.

If you catch the flu, drink plenty of fluids and get lots of rest. Antiviral medications can help treat the flu, but some strains have developed a resistance to them. You can also try over-the-counter pain relievers and fever reducers to treat the symptoms. However, you should NEVER give aspirin to children or teens with flu symptoms because it may cause a rare, but serious illness called Reye’s syndrome.3

Getting vaccinated yearly is the best way to help protect yourself from the flu. It’s also important to take certain other precautions to help reduce spreading the virus to others or contracting it yourself:4

  • Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. To avoid contaminating your hands, always sneeze or cough into a tissue, handkerchief or the inside of your elbow.
  • Wash your hands often. Be sure to scrub them vigorously with soap and water for at least 15 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoid crowds as much as possible during peak flu season.

1. World Health Organization. Influenza Fact Sheet N°211. Accessed August 20, 2014.
2. Mayo Clinic. Diseases and Conditions: Influenza. Symptoms. Accessed August 20, 2014.
3. Mayo Clinic. Diseases and Conditions: Influenza. Lifestyle and Home Remedies. Accessed August 20, 2014.
4. Mayo Clinic. Diseases and Conditions: Influenza. Prevention. Accessed August 20, 2014.

Information provided is for general background purposes and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment by a trained professional. You should always consult your physician about any healthcare questions you may have, especially before trying a new medication, diet, fitness program, or approach to healthcare issues.
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