Everybody hates the flu - getting it or taking care of someone else who has the flu.
"Flu," short for "influenza," is a viral infection that causes upper respiratory symptoms (see below) and makes us miserable. If you are currently suffering from flu symptoms, this article may help you better understand them and what to do about them. And if you don't have symptoms today, expect that one day you probably will! You'll want to learn how to protect yourself so you won't get the flu.
Flu Seasons Are Mostly Annual Events
According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu seasons are generally unpredictable, although epidemics happen every year. For the most part, flu seasons arrive each year as the fall progresses and we spend more time indoors.
We can even watch the advent of the flu as it arrives in each hemisphere to see how it passes from one person, and one region, to the next, based on the temperatures and weather experienced in those areas. In the northern hemisphere, including the United States, Canada, Europe, Japan, Russia and other regions north of the equator, the season will run from November to March. In the southern hemisphere, including South America, Africa, Australia, New Zealand and other places south of the equator, the season runs each year from May to September. In tropical areas, people may catch the flu, but it will be less apt to be season-specific.
An average of 200,000 Americans are hospitalized annually due to seasonal flu. The fewest number of Americans who died from the flu between 1976 and 2006 was 3,000 in one year. The most deaths from flu in that same time period were 49,000 in one year. Most of those who died were either infants, elderly or people who had compromised immune systems due to another medical problem.
Is the flu getting a foothold in your community? Are you at an increased risk of catching the flu? If you are interested in tracking the flu across the globe or in your own community, Google provides flu maps and graphs that can help you do so.
In this flu season, as of early 2014, the most prevalent strain of flu being seen in North America is the H1N1 strain - the same one we saw in 2009-2010, then called swine flu.
Fever, chills, coughing, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headaches, body aches, dizziness, confusion, fatigue, malaise or even diarrhea for some - these flu symptoms can make you miserable. When you experience them, you may have the flu, either seasonal flu or possibly H1N1 swine flu. You may experience any combination of these symptoms. You may or may not experience them all. And even if you experience them all, it may not be the flu; it could be a cold.
"Stomach flu" is very different - in fact, it's not really influenza at all. (Learn about the difference between flu and stomach flu.)
What Is the Difference Between a Cold and the Flu?
The difference between the flu and the common cold is that they are caused by different viruses. Yet the symptoms are basically the same. If you feel lousy with an upper respiratory disease, then what it's called probably won't make much difference to you.
In general, experts tell us the symptoms of flu will feel worse to us than cold symptoms will. The fever, body aches, extreme fatigue and dry cough may take more of a toll on our ability to get through a normal day. Further, if the symptoms are ignored and we don't take care of ourselves, the flu is more likely to result in additional, more serious problems like pneumonia, perhaps even landing us in the hospital.
Flu has one other distinction; that is, it can become pandemic. We watched the World Health Organization declare the H1N1 swine flu a pandemic in 2009. Colds are caught the world over, on a regular basis, but they are never declared to be pandemic.