With Flu Season Right Around the Corner, Here is What You Need to Know

There’s a lot to look forward to as the seasons change and temperatures begin to cool. One thing that no one looks forward to each year, though, is the onset of flu season. Every fall and winter, flu cases rise dramatically. But what is the reason behind the flu’s seasonal nature, and how can you prepare to stay safe this upcoming flu season?

What is the Flu?

Influenza, more commonly known as “the flu”, is a viral infection that affects a person’s respiratory system, including the lungs, throat, and nasal passages. Every year, about 15-20% of Americans contract the flu, making it one of the most common viral infections in the country.

Common symptoms of the flu include:

  • Fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Chills and sweats
  • Headache
  • Dry, persistent cough
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Eye pain

Is the Flu Dangerous?

In the majority of cases, people who contract the flu are able to recover in a week or two without requiring treatment and without any serious complications. In rare cases, however, the flu can lead to severe complications that can cause hospitalization or even death. According to the CDC, of the roughly 9 million Americans who contract the flu each year, approximately 100,000 will require hospitalization and approximately 5,000 will die due to complications from the disease.

Some people are more prone to severe and potentially dangerous cases of the flu than others, with children under the age of 2 and adults over the age of 65 being the most vulnerable groups. Other people that are at a higher risk of severe flu symptoms and complications according to the Mayo Clinic include:

  • Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
  • People who are pregnant or plan to be pregnant during flu season
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • American Indians or Alaska Natives
  • People with chronic illnesses such as asthma, heart disease, kidney disease, liver disease, and diabetes
  • People with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher

If you are experiencing severe flu symptoms and are concerned about your health and safety, be sure to meet with your physician. They may decide to prescribe you antiviral drugs that are intended to shorten the length of the illness’s duration and prevent severe complications.

Why Does Flu Season Exist?

Every fall and winter, cases of the flu skyrocket. But why does this happen? Why does something as seemingly unpredictable as a respiratory virus follow such a predictable schedule? It turns out we still aren’t sure precisely why flu cases rise in the colder months, but we believe it to be a combination of factors. Possible explanations for why flu seasons exists include:

  • Dry air from cold temperatures dehydrates mucus membranes in the respiratory system, making it harder to defend against infection
  • People spend more time indoors in close contact with one another during the winter, making it easier for the virus to spread
  • Since viruses decompose slower in colder temperatures, the influenza virus may survive longer on surfaces such as doorknobs during the fall and winter months
  • Less sunshine in the winter months means less ultraviolet radiation that could kill the influenza virus
  • Less sunshine and the fact the people spend more time indoors during the winter months also means that people are producing less vitamin D, which reduces immune strength

While it is possible to catch the flu anytime of the year, these factors make the odds of catching the flu much higher during the fall and winter and give us what is known all over the world as flu season.

How to Stay Safe This Flu Season

The biggest key to protecting yourself against the flu this flu season is to make sure that you are up-to-date on your flu vaccine. The flu vaccine is taken once per year, and, according to the CDC, getting the flu vaccine reduces your chances of contracting the flu by 40-60%. Avoiding close contact with others who are sick, washing your hands frequently, and avoiding touching your face can also reduce your chances of contracting the flu.

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