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Preventing seasonal influenza

Air Force Staff Sgt. Jaqueline Mbugua and members of the Massachusetts Air National Guard’s 102nd Medical Group traveled to the Roxy Theater on Joint Base Cape Cod to provide flu shots to Airmen Nov. 2, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas Swanson). Air Force Staff Sgt. Jaqueline Mbugua and members of the Massachusetts Air National Guard’s 102nd Medical Group traveled to the Roxy Theater on Joint Base Cape Cod to provide flu shots to Airmen Nov. 2, 2019. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Thomas Swanson).

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SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by two main types of the flu virus: Types A and B. The influenza A and B viruses that routinely spread in people are responsible for seasonal flu epidemics each year. Both can cause mild to severe illness with symptoms including fever, sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches, headache, coughing and general fatigue. Serious outcomes of infection can result in hospitalization or death. Some people, such as elderly people, young children and people with certain health conditions are at a higher risk of serious complications. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated annually.

How It Spreads: Most experts think that viruses spread primarily by droplets made when infected people cough, sneeze, or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people up to six feet away, or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. Less often, a person might get the flu by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or eyes. Appropriate cough etiquette and hand washing helps prevent the spread of germs.

Period of Contagiousness: Healthy adults can infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to seven days after. Children and some people with weakened immune systems may pass the virus for longer than seven days. However, people are most contagious in the first three to four days after their illness begins. Symptoms typically begin about two days (but can range from one to four days) after the virus enters the body. Some people can also be infected but have no symptoms.

Prevention: The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated every year. Good health habits like covering your cough and washing your hands often can help stop the spread of germs and prevent respiratory illnesses. There are also antiviral drugs that can be used to treat and prevent flu.

Simple ways to prevent the spread to others include:

  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
  • Staying home from work or school, and not running errands when you are sick. This will help prevent spreading your illness to others.
  • Covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick. Flu and other serious respiratory illnesses, like respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), whooping cough, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) are spread by cough, sneezing, or unclean hands.
  • Washing your hands often. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

United States Data: The flu has resulted in between 9.3 million to 49 million illnesses each year in the United States since 2010. On average, 5% - 20% of the United States population gets the flu, resulting in 31.4 million outpatient visits and more than 200,000 hospitalizations. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, during the severe 2017-2018 flu season, one of the longest in recent years, estimates indicate that more than 900,000 people were hospitalized and more than 80,000 people died from flu including 185 children. Approximately 80% of these deaths occurred in children who had not received a vaccination. During this same season, approximately 40% of the U.S. population chose to get a flu vaccine, preventing an estimated of 7 million flu illnesses and 8,000 deaths. In Colorado alone, during the 2018-2019 season, 3,825 people were hospitalized for flu; 84 outbreaks occurred in long-term care facilities and three deaths occurred in children under age 18 years.

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