This is part of our collaboration with Flu Near You to track the flu over the 2018-2019 flu season. Want to help out? Sign up at Flu Near You, and text ‘flu’ to 917-242-4070 to get weekly reminders and tips.
Science Friday and Flu Near You are teaming up for an exciting new citizen science project to track this year’s flu season!
Help us track the flu!
- Register to participate at Flu Near You (don’t worry, it takes less than two minutes!)
- Each week, take 30 seconds to click a button to report how you are feeling
- If you’re afraid you’ll forget, text “flu” to 917-242-4070 to get a weekly reminder and tip!
Tracking The Flu, In Sickness And In Health
What is this project?
Flu season has already begun, and we’re recruiting a national team of everyday citizens to report how they are feeling each week. The goal? With your help, we can build a real-time, national map of the rise and fall of influenza-like-illness in the United States.
By joining this project, you’ll help generate an accurate map of the prevalence of the flu in your area, which will help epidemiologists track and respond to the disease. As you participate, you’ll have opportunities to learn about prevention and symptoms of influenza, and even see when the flu is picking up in your area so you can take extra precautions.
Why help map the flu?
There are lots of reasons join in!
- You’ll help build the largest national self-reported flu map database in the country
- Your input will help your state and county track influenza, making it easier for health officials to respond to flu infections
- Learn about the symptoms, causes, and effective prevention of the flu
- Get answers to your flu-season questions in Science Friday’s Flu FAQ
- Get exclusive invitations to live online and on-air expert Q&A sessions about the flu and flu vaccines
- Be the first to know about flu-related news and the arrival of the flu season in your neighborhood
How To Catch The Flu (Under The Lens)
Doesn’t the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) monitor the flu already?
To monitor national and state level flu, the CDC uses a national influenza surveillance system that includes healthcare information (e.g. hospitalizations, doctor visits for influenza-like illness, lab specimens that tested positive for influenza, and influenza-associated deaths) to determine when, where, and what influenza viruses are circulating. Although this type of monitoring is important, it only captures illness among individuals who seek medical care. If you’ve ever gotten the flu, wallowed in misery with a box of tissues and Netflix without visiting the doctor, your flu infection was not reported.
I have a flu question that you didn’t answer here.
Leave a comment below and we can try to answer it for you!
What is the flu and how does it spread?
The flu, short for “influenza,” is an infectious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus with symptoms that affect the nose, airways, and lungs. Influenza is transmitted from between people primarily by tiny spit and snot droplets that are sprayed when someone with the flu sneezes, coughs, or talks—or, less commonly, from surfaces that an infected person has recently touched. The flu virus changes constantly, which is why you do not stay immune to the virus after you’ve recovered from an infection.
How long does it take to get sick, and how long are you infectious?
Symptoms start about two days after exposure to the influenza virus. An infected person can spread the virus starting a day before they have symptoms and up to a week after they first get sick.
How do I know if I have the flu?
Flu symptoms can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue and sometimes diarrhea or vomiting. Although symptoms may appear to be similar to the common cold, flu symptoms generally arrive much more quickly and are often (though not always) accompanied by a fever. The only way to be certain that the influenza virus is causing your symptoms is with a laboratory test given by your doctor.
How serious is the flu?
The flu can be quite serious. During the 2017-2018 flu season, the CDC reported there were a total of 79,000 flu-related deaths, 959,000 hospitalizations, and over 22.5 million medical visits caused by the flu. While the flu is most serious for small children and people over 64 years of age, the CDC estimates that over 30 million people ages 18-64 got sick with flu symptoms in the 2017-2018 flu season, and of those over 240,000 were hospitalized. The flu can also increase the risk of heart attack six-fold in older adults. Yuck.
How can I prevent the flu?
The best way to avoid getting the flu is to get a flu shot. Getting a flu shot not only means you’ll be less likely to get the flu, it also means if you do get the flu anyway, you’ll have fewer days of missed work and be less likely to have to go to the doctor or be hospitalized because of the flu. Flu shots have been shown to be safe and effective at reducing symptoms and hospitalizations due to respiratory illness for pretty much everyone, including kids in elementary school, pregnant moms as well as the children they later give birth to, people over 65, little kids between 6 months and 6 years, people who work in offices, and healthcare workers (whose elderly patients benefit from vaccinated nurses). And while hand-washing and wearing a medical mask will reduce your risk of getting the flu, it’s much less effective than getting a flu shot.
Meet the Writer
Ariel Zych is Science Friday’s education director. She is a former teacher and scientist who spends her free time making food, watching arthropods, and being outside.