Influenza – more commonly known as the flu – is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Page ContentEach year, in the United States, there are approximately 36,000 influenza-related deaths, and an estimated 114,000 to 221,000 hospitalizations due to influenza. Older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at higher risk for serious flu complications. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated yearly.“Flu viruses are spread mainly from person to person through direct contact with respiratory droplets from coughs or sneezes by people with the flu virus. If you are within 3 to 6 feet of a person with the flu when they cough or sneeze, you can breathe in the virus,” says Paula Cross-Shokes, Ph.D., M.D., a board-certified Family Medicine physician at Kelsey-Seybold’s Summer Creek Clinic.“It’s also possible to become infected by touching something with flu viruses on it and then touching your mouth or nose. “Some viruses and bacteria can live for some time on items you touch – like tables, doorknobs, and desks,” Dr. Cross-Shokes warns. Signs and Symptoms of the FluInfluenza usually starts suddenly and may include the following symptoms, which Dr. Cross-Shokes says can last from three to 10 days.Fever (over 100-degrees Fahrenheit)CoughSore throatBody aches, headaches, runny or stuffy nose, chills and fatigue What to DoIf you’re experiencing flu symptoms, Dr. Cross-Shokes says stay home and rest.“Drink plenty of liquids to help avoid dehydration. Take over-the-counter pain relievers (but don't give aspirin to children or teens) for head and muscle aches. You may want to see your doctor for a prescription for an antiviral medication, such as Tamiflu or Relenza, which may shorten the course of the illness by a day or two if the medication is given within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms,” she says.“Go to the hospital if there is difficulty with breathing, chest pain or pressure, confusion, persistent vomiting, fever with a rash, or bluish skin color, which could be a sign of lack of oxygen,” she advises.