The "Flu" is an illness caused by a virus, specifically either the Influenza A or Influenza B virus. Most people think that flu causes vomiting and diarrhea, but it actually is a major respiratory illness. Common symptoms in children include cough, difficulty breathing, cold symptoms like a runny nose, fatigue, weakness, muscle aches, headache, and fever. Children more than adults can also get gastrointestinal symptoms like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. People often incorrectly think of the flu as a mild illness, but if you have the Influenza virus you feel terrible, like you've been run over by a bus. Most of the symptoms of Influenza last for 2 to 5 days, but the feeling of fatigue can last for weeks.
The flu can lead to severe illness requiring hospitalization and can even be fatal. The flu is especially dangerous to people with poor or underdeveloped immune systems, like infants and young children, the elderly, and people with cancer or other medical problems. This is why it is so important to receive the yearly influenza vaccine. Children 6 months and older should receive the vaccine. The first time it is given requires two doses, then just yearly after that. The vaccine is safe and has been proven to reduce influenza infections. In people that get the vaccine but still get the infection, the course of illness has been proven to be milder and shorter, with fewer hospitalizations and deaths. Side effects of the influenza vaccine are usually limited to muscle pain at the injection site but can include low-grade fever, mild body aches, and mild headache. If they occur, these side effects will go away in one to two days.
The two best ways to avoid the flu are receiving the yearly vaccine and frequent handwashing!