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What is Influenza Season?

Influenza season, also simply called “flu” season, is a period of the year that marks the onset of the respiratory infection called influenza. Flu season generally occurs twice per year, once in the Northern Hemisphere from October to May, and once in the Southern Hemisphere from May to September. During influenza season, illness typically strikes mass quantities of people because the virus is so easily spread. Influenza season has come to be known for its intense contagiousness and familiar variety of symptoms.

Though influenza mutates frequently and different strains appear nearly every year, the virus is categorized into three general types that occur every season: Influenza type A, Influenza type B and Influenza type C. Influenza type A is the most variable and common form of the virus and contains many subtypes, such as the H1N1 virus and the avian flu. Type A often spreads to epidemic — and at times, pandemic — proportions. Influenza type B is a milder form of type A flu that does not cause pandemics but can cause epidemics. Influenza type C has no subtypes and is responsible for mild respiratory infections that generally are not as problematic as type A or type B influenza.

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Although symptoms vary depending on which type of flu is contracted, all forms temporarily weaken the respiratory system and can affect other parts of the body. Common symptoms during influenza season include fever, dry cough, body aches, vomiting, diarrhea and severe lack of energy. Relatively healthy people are generally able to overcome the flu in one to two weeks, but infants, children, the elderly and people who suffer from chronic diseases are at risk for suffering serious complications. These people — as well as those who work in high-risk environments, such as hospitals — are recommended to receive a vaccination every flu season. Vaccinations change often to accommodate the changing flu strains, and they are widely available in shot or nasal spray form.

Not everyone will receive a vaccination during influenza season, so it is advisable for people to take precautions to avoid contracting the virus. The flu is usually spread through infected droplets of mucus and saliva in the air that come into contact with a person’s eyes, mouth or nose. It can take several days for symptoms to appear after one has been exposed to the flu, so a person might not know that he or she has the virus. Additionally, people can still be contagious many days after their symptoms disappear, making it difficult to determine whether a person has fully recovered or is still capable of spreading infection.

Many millions of people around the world are infected with seasonal flu every year, and perhaps 500,000 people or more die annually from flu-related complications. Children commonly get the flu first, so it is increasingly important for adults to teach them to practice proper hygiene, such as covering sneezes and coughs with tissues and regularly their washing hands. Receiving vaccinations in the months prior to the start of flu season is also recommended. The best way for someone to recuperate after becoming infected is to visit a doctor for prescribed medications and to get plenty of fluids and rest in order to speed recovery.

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