The flu is a highly contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to very severe symptoms. Serious outcomes of flu infection can result in hospitalization or death. Some people such as senior citizens, young children and people with certain health conditions are at high risk for serious flu complications. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year.
Influenza viruses are spread mainly by airborne droplets created when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk. Less often, a person might get the flu by touching a surface or object that has flu virus on it and then touching their own mouth or nose.
Most healthy adults who have been exposed to the flu virus may become contagious beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to 5 - 7 days after becoming sick.
People with the flu should stay home. It also is important to wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Annual vaccinations are important because influenza is unpredictable. Flu viruses are constantly changing and the immunity gained from vaccinations declines over time.