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Most of us are familiar with the flu — officially called influenza — as an irritating contagious disease that causes fever, cough, a sore throat, and a runny or stuffed nose. Muscle aches and pains, headaches, and fatigue are also common flu symptoms. Some people will experience nausea and vomiting as well, while others will have diarrhea.
Though many people confuse common colds and real influenza, there is no doubt that the flu is much more invasive than a common cold. Colds and the flu are both viral infections, but most people who come down with a cold feel well enough to work, with symptoms that are limited to their nose and throat.
The flu is a real pain. It will disrupt your normal routine and force you to stay in bed or at least at home for around five days to a week. For most people, the problem ends there and the flu is not a serious disease.
The flu isn't always benign. Some people develop serious complications as a result of the flu. Pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections are some of the possible complications of influenza. People with asthma may experience severe asthma attacks, and those with congestive heart failure can develop worse symptoms when they catch the flu.
Anyone can come down with influenza and anyone who develops a flu can suffer from consequences, but there are certain risk factors that make complications much more likely. Young children, people aged over 65, people with compromised immune systems, pregnant women, and people with chronic medical conditions including asthma, diabetes, and heart disease are at risk.
Make no mistake — people die from seasonal flu every year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not have exact numbers of seasonal-flu deaths in the United States, but they do make estimations. The CDC says that, "from the 1976-1977 season to the 2006-2007 flu season, flu-associated deaths ranged from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people". These estimates obviously only cover the United States.
The fall is starting, and the United States flu season is considered to last from October to May, usually peaking in February. You have every chance of coming down with a flu this season, and the consequences can range from a week of illness and the loss of income that may come with that, to a life-threatening complication. You may also infect more vulnerable people, who may in turn develop complications.
What are you going to do? Are you going to see if you develop a flu this year, or are you going to opt to receive a flu shot instead?