Safety Moment

What is influenza and how serious is it?

The influenza virus, also known as "flu," is a highly contagious viral infection of the respiratory passage, which causes mild to severe illness.

What are the symptoms of influenza and how does it spread?

Flu is different from a cold and usually comes on suddenly. People often feel some or all of the symptoms, which includes:

  • Fever*
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle/body aches
  • Headache
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Sometimes diarrhea and vomiting

*It is important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever. 

While influenza viruses are detected year-round in most countries, flu viruses are most common during the fall and winter. Most experts believe that flu viruses spread by tiny droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze, or talk. Cold weather increases the likelihood of people touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, which is a fast track for contracting the virus.

How severe is the flu and who is at risk?

Although the symptoms for this virus are similar to that of the common cold, the effects can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Anyone can get the flu, even if you maintain a healthy lifestyle. However, some people are at a higher risk of developing flu complications if they get sick, including people 65 years and older, people with chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), and pregnant women. 

Some emergency warning signs of flu in adults are:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
  • Sudden dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Severe or persistent vomiting
  • Flu-like symptoms that improve but return with fever or worse cough


The flu is not only dangerous to adults, but to infants and children as well. Children younger than five years are at a higher risk of contracting flu and developing serious flu-related complications. Get medical help when children experience:

  • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
  • Bluish skin coloring
  • Extreme irritability to the point that the child does not want to be held
  • Fever with rash
  • Unable to eat
  • No tears when crying
  • Significantly fewer wet diapers than normal

How can I prevent contracting the flu?

It is important to keep healthy habits in order to prevent the germs from spreading since the virus is so contagious. Below are some healthy habits to practice during cold weather or flu seasons:

  • Get vaccinated. The first and most important step in preventing flu is to get a flu vaccine each year. Flu vaccine has been shown to reduce flu related illnesses and the risk of serious flu complications that can result in hospitalization or even death. Ask your doctor or visit a local pharmacy for more information.
  • Wash your hands. Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. You can also use an alcohol-based hand rub if soap and water are unavailable.
  • Protect your face. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches their eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Get plenty of rest. Be sure to get plenty of rest to help lower your susceptibility to the virus. A good night’s sleep will keep your body strong during flu season.
  • Eat and drink healthy. Eating a regular healthy diet and drinking plenty of fluids will keep your body and immune system and help reduce your chances of contracting the flu.

What should I do if I get the flu?

  • Stay home. If you are sick or have the flu, avoid leaving your house and potentially spreading the virus through daily activities such as running errands, going to work or school. People with the flu are most contagious in the first 3-4 days after their illness begins.
  • Cover your mouth. Always cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. This will prevent others around you from getting sick.
  • Get antiviral drugs. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines (pills, liquid, etc.) that fight against the flu virus in your body. Antiviral drugs cannot be purchased over-the-counter, so you must contact your doctor is you are experiencing flu or serious flu complications.

It’s important to note that antiviral drugs are not a substitute for getting a flu vaccine. The flu vaccine is the best way to prevent seasonal flu. Antiviral drugs are the second line of defense to treat seasonal flu and variant flu viruses if you get sick.