Influenza, also known as ‘the flu,’ is a viral illness that tends to spread through communities between November and April every year, with a peak number of cases occurring in January and February. It is a respiratory illness that causes chills, high fever, body aches, and cough. About 5% of the population will contract the flu each year.
Many people tend to confuse influenza with ‘the stomach flu,’ which is a gastrointestinal virus that causes vomiting and diarrhea. These are two separate illnesses, and having one does not protect against having the other.
Many reports say that 36,000 people die annually from the flu, but this number has remained unchanged over the past several years despite the new recommendations that everyone over the age of six months (except those few cases where it is contraindicated) be immunized against this virus. In a 2005 National Institutes of Health (NIH) study, Impact of Influenza Vaccination on Seasonal Mortality in the US Elderly Population, it was found that “because fewer than 10% of all winter deaths were attributable to influenza in any season, we conclude that observational studies substantially overestimate vaccination benefit.”
There are over 200 different types of viruses, not necessarily influenza, that cause flu-like symptoms. According to the NYC Influenza Surveillance Report, of people who sought treatment for the flu, most are usually sick from other circulating illnesses because only 16% of specimens submitted were positive for influenza A or B. In a 2014 meta-analysis of 90 influenza studies, only 2.4% of people developed laboratory-confirmed influenza.
Ways to protect yourself from the flu
- Avoid close contact Avoid people who are sick and have been vaccinated against the flu with the nasal spray. Inflammation during pregnancy is a unique health risk that can be caused by the flu and its vaccine. Click here to read more.
- Support your immune system Eat good foods, exercise, and get enough sleep.
- Don’t return the favor If you get sick, stay home as much as possible and cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze.
- Wash your hands Viruses like the flu are spread though mucous droplets that can live on surfaces like door handles and desk tops. Touching these surfaces and then touching your nose, mouth, or eyes can make you sick. You can break this chain of infection with proper hand washing.