Senior Health

Flu (Influenza)

What is the flu?

Influenza (or flu) is a highly contagious viral respiratory illness that affects up to 20 percent of the U.S. population each year. Flu appears most frequently in winter and early spring and can make people of any age ill, but older adults are at higher risk for serious flu complications. Although most people are ill with the flu for only a few days, some may need to be hospitalized. Influenza can also lead to pneumonia and in some cases, death. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year.

What are the symptoms?

  • High fever
  • Headache
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Sneezing at times
  • Cough, often becoming severe
  • Severe aches and pains
  • Fatigue for several weeks
  • Sometimes a sore throat
  • Extreme exhaustion

What treatment options are available?

The goal of treatment for influenza is to help prevent or decrease the severity of symptoms. Treatment may include:

  • Medications to relieve aches and fever
  • Medications for congestion and nasal discharge
  • Bed rest and increased intake of fluids
  • Antiviral medications. When started within the first two days of treatment, they can reduce how long you'll have the flu but they can't cure it. Some side effects, such as nervousness, lightheadedness or nausea, may result from taking these medications. People with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease may not be able to take certain of these medications. Viral resistance to these drugs may vary. Some drugs may be ineffective if current viral strains have developed resistance. All of these medications must be prescribed by a doctor.

The best treatment is prevention. All adults should receive an annual seasonal flu vaccine. Influenza viruses are constantly changing, so it's important to get a new flu shot each year. It's best to get a flu shot in the fall, when the vaccine becomes available in your community. Flu vaccine is generally available from the end of September or early October until the end of the season in January or February.