DefinitionThe flu (also called influenza) is a viral infection that affects the respiratory system. It can cause mild-to-severe illness, and sometimes it can lead to death.
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CausesThe influenza virus causes the flu. Each winter, the virus spreads around the world. The strains are usually different from one year to the next. While less likely, it is possible to get the flu when it is not flu season.The two main kinds of influenza virus are Type A and Type B.Someone infected with the virus may sneeze or cough. This releases droplets into the air. If you breathe in infected droplets, you can become infected. You can also become infected by touching a contaminated surface. The virus is transferred from your hand when you touch your mouth or nose.
Risk FactorsFactors that increase your chance of getting the flu include:
- Living or working in crowded conditions, such as nursing homes, schools, military forces, and daycare centers
- Being physically or mentally disabled—people with disabilities may not be able to easily communicate their symptoms or may have trouble practicing preventive measures against the flu, putting them more at risk.
- Children younger than 5 years old
- Adults aged 65 years and older
- Being American Indian/Alaska Native
- Certain health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease
- A suppressed immune system
- Pregnancy during the flu season
- Age younger than 18 years old and receiving long-term aspirin therapy—may be at risk for Reyes syndrome
- Living in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities
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