What is flu?

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Flu is an illness caused by a virus called influenza. It spreads between humans as infected people cough or sneeze, releasing infectious virus particles into the air.1
Flu causes a range of different symptoms, leaving people feeling very unwell.2,3 Many of these symptoms can also be caused by other illnesses, such as a cold, which can create ‘conflusion’ as you try to figure out if you actually have the flu or not.

Here are the early flu symptoms to
look out for:2,3

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Fever

(although not everyone with flu will have a fever)

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Body aches

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Headaches

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Chills

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Weakness and fatigue

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Cough

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Sore throat

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Runny or stuffy nose

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Diarrhea or vomiting

(more common in children)

Of course, everybody is different, and while some people with flu will get all of these symptoms, others might only experience a few.3

How long does flu last?
Is flu a serious illness?

Many people believe that flu is a minor illness that does not have any serious consequences.4–6 In reality, flu can cause a wide range of severe, and in some cases life-threatening complications. These can include:3

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Pneumonia

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Inflammation

of the heart, brain or muscle

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Multiple organ failure

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Blood poisoning

(sepsis)

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Worsening of existing health problems

(such as asthma)

Anybody can get sick with flu. However, some people are at a higher risk of developing complications than others. These include people aged 65 years or older, children younger than five years (and especially those younger than 2 years), and pregnant women.3

Treatments are available to protect you from flu and its complications. These include a specific type of treatment called antiviral medications.7

Learn more about treating flu with antiviral medications

Think you’ve got flu? Visit your doctor to discuss if an antiviral flu medication might be right for you

If you get sick this flu season, it’s important to speak to your doctor or healthcare provider as soon as possible.

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Find out more about flu in your local area using the CDC influenza map.

References:

  1. Cowling B et al. Nat Commun 2013; 4: 1935.
  2. Banning M. Br J Nurs 2005; 14(22): 1192–1197.
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Flu Symptoms & Complications, 2018. Available from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/consumer/symptoms.htm. Last accessed October 2018.
  4. Evans MR et al. Br J Gen Pract. 2007; 57: 352–358.
  5. Cedraschi C et al. BMC Fam Pract 2013; 14: 15.
  6. Nowak G et al. Int J Environ Res Public Health 2018; 15(4): 711.
  7. Centers for disease control and prevention. Treatment. Available from https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/rr/rr6001.pdf Accessed October 2018.
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XOF/091118/0037

Date of preparation: November 2018

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