For more information on the flu and common flu myths see our Flu: Fact vs. Fiction page.
What is the Flu?
Influenza, or “the flu,” is a highly contagious viral infection of the respiratory tract (nose, throat and lungs). The flu is often confused with the common cold, but flu symptoms tend to develop quickly (usually 1 to 4 days after a person is exposed to the flu virus) and are usually more severe than the typical sneezing and congestion associated with a cold.
Influenza is often accompanied with:
- Extreme tiredness
- Dry cough
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle aches
- Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are also common symptoms in children.
A person infected with the flu virus will typically suffer from the illness for approximately 7 to 10 days, with 5 to 6 days of limited activity and about 3 days of bed rest. When that average is applied nationwide, the flu and its complications lead to more than 200,000 hospital stays per year and tens of thousands of deaths (primarily in the elderly).
Each year, between 10 and 20 percent of the U.S. population is infected with the virus. Sometimes, the flu season can be more severe when a major circulating strain of influenza does not match any of the strains selected by world health organizations for the vaccine formulations – this is called a vaccine mismatch.
An annual flu vaccination can help prevent the spread of influenza between individuals and may help save lives of those most susceptible of having severe and fatal complications from the flu.
Who Should Get Vaccinated Against the Flu?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone 6 months and older should get vaccinated against the flu every year. This recommendation is the same even during years when the vaccine composition (the viruses the vaccine protects against) remains unchanged from the previous season.
Infants younger than 6 months old are too young to be vaccinated. Protect them by getting yourself, other children and family members, and close contacts vaccinated. This will help prevent spreading the virus to infants.
How Serious is the Flu in Children?
Children have the highest chance of getting sick from the flu and often spread the germs throughout their communities. During bad flu seasons, about 30 percent of school-aged children get sick. Even though vaccinations help cut down on flu-related missed school days by 47 to 56 percent, not enough children are vaccinated annually against the illness. As a result, children sick with the flu miss about 38 million school days every year. Consider these other facts:
- Influenza is one of the leading causes of infectious disease hospitalizations among young children. Approximately 20,000 children under the age of five are hospitalized due to the flu each year. Infants and toddlers are hospitalized as a result of influenza at rates similar to elderly people and at higher rates than people of all other ages.
- On average, nearly 100 children die in the United States from influenza and its complications every year.