Influenza (FLU)

Every year, as winter approaches, we begin to dread “flu season.” The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. The viruses spread in respiratory droplets from coughing and sneezing.

The flu affects all age groups and can cause mild to severe illness. Infection rates are highest in children. But serious illness and death due to influenza and its complications are highest in the elderly and chronically ill.

Influenza season usually peaks in the United States sometime between December and March. Getting a flu vaccine each year, taken as either a shot or as a nasal spray, is the single best way you can avoid getting the flu.

Those who neglect or refuse to get flu shots include a high number of minorities, said Dr. Jose Cordero, an assistant surgeon general at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Most people who die from influenza are 65 or older. But in that age group, only 71 percent of whites and 64 percent of African Americans and Hispanic Americans got flu shots in South Carolina during 2002.

The CDC finds that although influenza vaccination rates have increased in recent years for all groups, substantial gaps persist by race/ethnicity. This gap can be narrowed and we can lower all these numbers by getting flu vaccinations and taking precautions. Learn where to get your vaccinations and other steps you can take to avoid the flu.

next » What is influenza?

Written by: Lillian Trettin, Ph.D.
Reviewed by: Jeffrey G. Schultze, M.D.
Last Modified: Wednesday December 21, 2011 8:47 AM